The US needs to work on itself before it can claim a global leadership role on climate

Stephen Semler

Nov. 12, 2021


Military CO2 emissions made an unexpected but welcomed appearance at the UN climate conference this week. Global military emissions are typically omitted from emissions targets—from the Kyoto Protocols to the Paris Agreement to this one—and, although activists outside climate events protest this exemption all the time, it’s a topic that struggles to permeate into the discussions going on inside the actual conference venue.

That changed when Abby Martin asked this question to a panel featuring Rep. Frank Pallone (Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (House Speaker):


Pallone and Pelosi both humiliated themselves by basically refusing to acknowledge that 1) the Pentagon itself is a massive environmental threat and/or 2) there is a massive funding disparity between the Pentagon and emissions mitigation.

The brilliance of Martin’s question is that it indirectly challenged the credibility Pallone or Pelosi or any American politician had to be on stage in the first place. The US claims a global leadership role on climate, but its annual budgets reveal a massive credibility gap between its stated climate ambitions and actually backing up those ambitions with more than just talk.

Budget comparison: Funding for greenhouse gas mitigation vs. funding for the largest producer of greenhouse gases 

The infrastructure bill passed by the House last week has $189 billion for CO2 (or equivalent) reduction. Funding is spread out over 5 years, so that works out to $37.8 billion per year for climate change mitigation, on average.

By contrast, the Pentagon budget for next year is currently at $778 billion. The Pentagon is the single largest institutional consumer of oil and emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. It pollutes more than 140 countries. Military industry accounts for about 300 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually; military operations produce another 66 million metric tons per year, meaning that stopping them would be as environmentally beneficial as taking about 14 million (non-electric) cars off the road.

Thanks for your time,

Stephen (