US military uses as much fuel as Portugal and is the 47th largest polluter in the world, reveals shocking study

The researchers calculated the US military's impact on climate change by analyzing its global logistical supply chains, which makes its acquisition and consumption of hydrocarbon-based fuels possible


                            US military uses as much fuel as Portugal and is the 47th largest polluter in the world, reveals shocking study

The US military is one of the largest climate polluters in history, and is the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, if only taking into account the emission from fuel usage, reveals a shocking new study. The report, published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, examines the US military's "carbon boot-print" and reveals that the US military consumes more liquid fuels and emits more carbon dioxide than most countries.

"We make two key points in our study. The US military is a powerful actor in the global oil market. In fact, the US military is the single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world. The US military is the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world when looking at emissions from fuel use. When comparing the US military's fuel usage to the 2014 World Bank data around liquid fuel consumption by country, we found that the US military was comparable to Peru and Portugal," co-author Dr. Oliver Belcher from Durham University's Department of Geography, told MEA Worldwide (MEAWW).

He further said: "Two major steps need to be taken. In the US domestic political context, where big public policy initiatives like the Green New Deal are gaining traction, the US military needs to be accounted for as a major climate actor and polluter. In the international context, where agreeing to major international treaties addressing climate change is already difficult, the US military needs to be confronted as a disproportionate polluter of the environment. One way to address global warming is to resist America's propensity to global warring."

While greenhouse gas accounting routinely focuses on civilian energy use and fuel consumption, the new study by researchers from Durham University (UK) and Lancaster University (UK), calculates US military's impact on climate change by analyzing its global logistical supply chains.

Dr. Belcher said their paper argues that to account for the US military as a major climate actor, one must understand the logistical supply chain. "This supply chain – which spans the globe, and is managed by the Defense Logistics Agency – is the infrastructure that allows hydrocarbon-based fuels to be delivered and consumed worldwide by US military personnel. In our article, we conduct an environmental accounting of these military supply chains," he added.

The paper focuses on the US Defense Logistics Agency – Energy (DLA‐E), "a powerful yet virtually unresearched sub‐agency" within the larger Defense Logistics Agency. According to the research team, the Defense Logistics Agency oversees the massive global supply chains of the US military – from energy, services, munitions, and parts, to maintenance distribution for military operations. The sub‐agency DLA‐E specifically works to deliver the energy needs of all US federal agencies, as well as multinational corporations, private contractors, and countries allied with the USA.  The DLA‐E is also the primary purchase‐point for hydrocarbon‐based fuels for the US military, both domestically and internationally.

"The DLA‐E maintains records of bulk fuel purchases by US military personnel, both domestically and internationally. Through multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, we compiled a database of DLA‐E records for all known land, sea, and aircraft fuel purchases, as well as fuel contracts made with US operators in military posts, camps, stations, and ship bunkers abroad from Financial Year 2013 to 2017," said the paper.

According to the findings, between 2015 and 2017, the US military was active in 76 countries, including seven countries "on the receiving end of air/drone strikes", 15 countries with "boots on the ground", 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries "receiving counter‐terrorism training". Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it – and the DLA‐E is the institution that supplies it, said the researchers.

"In 2017, the US military purchased about 269,230 barrels of oil a day and emitted 25,375.8 kt‐CO2e by burning those fuels. If the US military were a country, it would nestle between Peru and Portugal in the global league table of fuel purchasing, when comparing 2014 World Bank country liquid fuel consumption with 2015 US military liquid fuel consumption. For 2014, the scale of emissions is roughly equivalent to the total – not just fuel – emissions from Romania," the researchers state in their report.

The study shows that the Air Force is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases at 13,202.4 kt CO2e, almost double that of the US Navy's 7,847.8 kt CO2e. In addition to using the most polluting types of fuel, the Air Force and Navy are also the largest purchasers of fuel. (Getty Images)

According to the findings, while the DLA‐E supplies several fuels and lubricants to all military branches, the most common are jet fuel and terrestrial and marine diesel. Each of these, say the researchers, has its own emissions profile and co‐pollutants. "For example, military jet fuel is, like all jet fuel, molecularly similar to kerosene, and it emits CO2 water, SOx, and NOx (known in aggregate as carbon‐dioxide equivalent, CO2e). These pollutants are more potent than terrestrial equivalents because burning at higher altitude produces different kinds of chemical reactions, resulting in warming 2–4 times greater than on the ground. This difference in greenhouse gas output is one of the reasons why impact is significant, as the bulk of fuel consumed by the US military is jet fuel used for the Air Force or Navy," states the paper.

The study shows that the Air Force is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases at 13,202.4 kt CO2e, almost double that of the US Navy's 7,847.8 kt CO2e. In addition to using the most polluting types of fuel, the Air Force and Navy are also the largest purchasers of fuel. In 2017 alone, the Air Force purchased US $4.9 billion worth of fuel and the Navy US$2.8 billion, followed by the Army at US$947 million and Marines at US$36 million.

"As the US military continues to carry out the everywhere war in some of the least accessible corners of the globe, its supply chains require logistical sophistication like never before. In this paper, we have given the first picture of the international organization of global supply chains that make the everywhere war possible. Moreover, we have stressed that this supply chain is precisely what allows the US military to be one of the largest institutional climate actors in the world," say the researchers.

The report states that despite the Trump Administration's announcement to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement, the US military has "long understood that it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change," nor has it completely ignored its contribution to the problem.

However, there are contradictions, say the researchers. "The US military sees climate change as a threat multiplier or a condition that will exacerbate other threats and is fast becoming one of the leading federal agencies in the US to invest in research and adoption of renewable energy. Nevertheless, the US military's climate policy remains fundamentally contradictory. While the military confronts the effects of climate change, it remains the largest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world. In the near future, this dependence on fossil fuels is unlikely to change as the USA continues to pursue open‐ended operations around the globe."

According to the research team, another dimension of the "hidden carbon costs" in the US military's operations are the path dependencies built‐in to major strategic commitments such as weapons systems – from the assault weapons used by soldiers, to the convoys, air, and sea carriers that deliver troops to particular sites – and the bureaucratic requirements that facilitate the operations of those commitments. Every step, they emphasized, is dependent on a hydrocarbon fuel commitment.

"The key factors contributing to the US military as an extraordinary climate polluter are its role as a major actor in the global oil market, and the path-dependencies that occur when the US military develops any new kind of vehicle or weapon system. What that means is the US military is 'locked-in' to hydrocarbon-based fuels for a long period of time whenever it develops any new weapon system, from fighter jets to aircraft carriers. We are particularly concerned about the duration of these weapons systems, which is why we argue that vast parts of the US military machine need to be turned off if we are serious about addressing global environmental change," Dr. Belcher told MEAWW.

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