Roads melting from a heatwave in India. Droughts. Floods in Bangladesh. Many scientists believe the dramatic increase in extreme weather is a result of global climate change. Pope Francis is particularly concerned about the ethics of not stopping global warming, as he discusses in his encyclical.
A lot of talk about the causes of climate change emphasizes the contributions of individuals to the problem. The solutions to climate change focuses on what individuals can do, such as driving hybrid cars and shopping at farmers’ markets. However, there is a lack of coverage of systematic causes and solutions.
One single large contribution to global climate change is the military. I feel that any discussion of the causes of climate change that omits the Pentagon’s enormous use of petroleum products does not provide an adequate framework for understanding the causes of climate change.
Most Americans have no idea of the extent to which the Department of Defense uses fossil fuels, producing greenhouse gases and increasing global warming. The Pentagon is actually the largest single consumer of oil on the planet. The Energy Information Administration, the official compiler of energy statistics for the U.S. government, reported that the total conventional energy use by the United States military in 2008 was 889 trillion British Thermal Units (BTUs). According to the 2008 CIA World Fact Book, only 35 countries consume more oil per day than the Pentagon. Bloomberg Business reports that the Pentagon spent $17 billion on petroleum in fiscal 2011.
One way the Department of Defense uses fossil fuels is to build and maintain domestic and foreign military bases. The Pentagon’s 2010 Base Structure Report lists 4,999 bases in the United States, its territories and overseas. Each base uses fossil fuel for transporting equipment, fuel, personnel, food and other supplies.
Each branch of the military also consumes vast amounts of petroleum products to carry out their specific missions. For example, the U.S. Air Force is the world’s single largest consumer of petroleum and uses a quarter of the world’s jet fuel.
Examples of fuel usage and carbon emission statistics of various vehicles and aircraft illuminate exactly how the military consumes so much petroleum. According to Global Fire Power, in 2014 the United States military had a total of 8,848 tanks. The M1 Abrams tank gets 0.2 miles per gallon and uses 252 gallons of fuel each hour. The Army has at least 1,800 of them, and the tanks require a fleet of 2,000 support trucks. Cougar Armored Fighting Vehicles get around 9 miles per gallon. The Buffalo Mine Protected Vehicle gets around 3.5 miles per gallon.
According to Business Insider, the U.S. military has approximately 13,000 aircraft. Apache helicopters get 0.5 miles per gallon. F4 Phantom fighter jets use over 1,500 gallons per hour. The Air Force’s M15 uses 25 gallons per minute. B-52 Stratocruisers use 3,334 gallons per hour, and produce 200,000 pounds per hour of CO2 equivalent. They require in-air refueling by KC-10 Extender Aircraft, which consume 2,050 gallons per hour and emit 120,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent each hour. The U.S.S. Independence Aircraft Carrier uses 5,600 gallons per hour and emits 112,000 tons of CO2 per hour. These examples represent only a sample of all the vehicles and aircraft used by the military.
At the height of the Iraq war, the U.S. military used 1 million gallons of fuel each day. Oil Change International reported that the Iraq war produced at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. If the war was ranked as a country in terms of carbon emissions, it would have emitted more CO2 each year than the annual emissions of 139 nations.
To be sure, many people feel that the security of the United States depends on a strong military, and therefore use of huge amounts of fossil fuel is justified. However, all of the vast military hardware available does not seem effective in fighting 21st century wars. Modern warfare involves surprise attacks by guerrilla type enemy forces, which is different than more traditional warfare. In other words, all of the vastly superior U.S. military force does not deter enemy combatants.
Invasions and occupations of foreign nations, which creates new enemies and therefore even more military conflicts, should be ended. Not basing foreign policy on the protection of foreign oil supplies, plus a new emphasis on diplomacy, would also reduce the need for military engagement.
It is true that some enlightened members of the military see the need for alternate methods of providing energy. However, we do not have time to wait for a gradual change from the Pentagon. The ethical response is to mandate that the military quickly curtail its use of fossil fuels to help prevent catastrophic climate disruption.
Lenore M. Hitchler