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Climate Change & War: How U.S. Military Emissions Factor into Costs of War & Shape Military Policy

Web ExclusiveMarch 17, 2023
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In an extended interview, we speak with Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University, about her book, The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our look at the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the costs of war with Neta Crawford, professor of international relations at Oxford University and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. She’s also author of the new book, The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Crawford. It’s great to have you with us. Thank you for doing Part 2 of this interview, as we — in Part 1, we really looked at the new report you came out, on this 20th anniversary of the Iraq War. But you go broad in this book, and over more than a century of U.S. military spending and buildup, and what that means for the environment, The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War. Why don’t you take us on a brief trip through history?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, war used to be fought, basically, with arms and legs and draft animals and wind power and oars and so on. But in the early 19th century, with the invention of the steam engine, war became more industrialized. Of course, steam power was either wood- or coal-powered. And this is the beginning of the military industrialization process, which launches a lot of emissions, from, at first, coal, through the 19th century. And in the early 20th century, what happens is many militaries shift to using petroleum. And then, of course, that increases the capacity for mechanization and speed.

And the thing that’s really interesting that I found in the book was that the military innovations became civilian innovations, and then this drove up civilian use of fossil fuels. And that’s the process that I’m tracing, sort of the gradual increase in the use of fossil fuels for the military driving up civilian uses.

And, of course, there’s also the thing that happens beginning in the 19th century but through to the present, where if you want to project power, as the United States did in the 19th and the 20th and the 21st century, what you need are places for refueling. And in the 19th century, this meant getting bases in Japan and in Hawaii and in the middle of the Pacific, so that the United States could expand and trade and make war in those regions, and then, as well, getting bases all over the world for refueling. In the 19th century, the British were the leaders in maritime power. In the 20th century, the U.S. became the great maritime power. Of course, it needed to have refueling capacity everywhere. And so the need for fuel drove U.S. overseas installations and bases, and it stayed that way to the present. So, that’s part of the story I tell.

And then I’m also talking about how it is that when it was feared that oil would run out or that countries in the Middle East would be either taken over by then the Soviet Union, or a country like Iran or Iraq would monopolize the fuel and drive up the price of oil, the United States put in place in the 1980s the Rapid Deployment Force, which then became Central Command. And the idea there was to have a standing force ready to intervene to protect access to oil. And, of course, even as U.S. oil imports from the region have declined with energy transitions to alternative fuels, and even as the risk of war, in many ways, has declined, the United States has maintained that force.

AMY GOODMAN: I don’t know how many people think of the military as such a driver of greenhouse gas emissions, but talk about it now and how they have grown to be so large. And how, by the way, are they calculated, talking about what’s counted when it comes to emissions and what isn’t?

NETA CRAWFORD: OK, so, let’s just talk about what’s counted. What we know is that U.S. military emissions are today about 1% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and the fluorinated gases. And if you add military industry, it rises to about 3% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

And how do we know what those emissions are? Well, for much of the period that I discuss in the book, we don’t have good data. I estimate based on a few points. But then, after 1975, I was able to calculate based on DOD fuel use. And then, more recently, there have been environmental — that is, the Energy Department has released information about U.S. emissions by department since 2008.

But what’s important to know here, I think, is that in the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol, the Clinton administration was lobbied heavily by the Department of Defense not to include military emissions. So, what happened at Kyoto was the chief U.S. negotiator, Eizenstat, was able to work with other governments, including the Soviet Union, to exclude military emissions reporting, for the most part. It excludes emissions from war and international bunker fuels. And so, there was no reporting of the majority of U.S. military emissions until quite recently. And they are not — this reporting is still not required under the Kyoto Protocol counting rules. It’s voluntary since 2015.

So, we have — we know, from either recent U.S. government acknowledgment of and reporting on emissions or through calculations, but this is not something that we know about globally. And it may be the case that if we add up all the emissions of all militaries in the world, it’s a large, very large, number.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you propose in this book? And how exactly — when you think about what happened in Iraq, for example, over this 20 years, you think about the oil burns in the desert, U.S. soldiers coming home and being incredibly sick. That’s how the U.S. saw it, from the U.S. point of view, the soldiers that were sent there. And, of course, the Iraqis have to continue to live there. What effect did that have?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, obviously, the destruction of that oil infrastructure leaves a toxic mess. When the United States began to target ISIL, or ISIS, oil infrastructure, because it was — this oil was being used for revenue and also ISIS operations, they destroyed thousands of trucks, tankers, oil wellheads and refinery capacity. And all of that, you know, led to emissions either of natural gas or of partially or badly burned fuel. And this added to the emissions. I can’t count that. It has not been estimated what the emissions were. But in addition, there’s a toxic legacy there.

Now, the point of the U.S. presence in the Middle East is in part to protect access to fossil fuel oil and natural gas that we should not burn, because we’re reaching the point where there’s little room to increase emissions. So, the thing that we should be doing is accelerating the transition to alternative fuels, which would get us out of protecting access to that fuel and supporting regimes which themselves are not democratic in the region.

And we should also think about reducing the overall U.S. military presence. We can have many fewer troops in the Persian Gulf if we’re not in part there to defend it. And we could have a reduced military presence all over the world if we changed the ways that the United States thought about defending its other so-called interests or its allies in the world, so we could move to a more defensive posture, which would not require as many operations or overseas installations.

So, overall, we could reduce U.S. military greenhouse gas emissions and other countries’ emissions if we engaged in arms control and changed our military doctrines. So, I think that there’s a win-win there: We reduce military spending, we decrease tensions, and, of course, we reduce emissions and are then transitioning to alternative fuels.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think predictions of climate wars are alarmist or realistic, Professor Crawford?

NETA CRAWFORD: The predictions of climate wars are generally alarmist. War is a multicausal event, OK. And often what the research actually shows, it’s that state capacity leads to internal unrest, that many countries and economies and regions can negotiate over access to resources. The idea that we need to go to war to get access to, let’s say, lithium or neodymium or any other rare earth mineral, I think, is exaggerated, the risk of that. Now, what is true is that climate change will cause misery and disruption and migration. But we don’t have to respond in a militarized way to disruption, to migration.

And the other point is that what I’m showing in this book is that war is in part a cause of climate change. So we need to think about the way the causal arrow goes. It’s not that climate change will inevitably lead to war. We can try to avoid that. But it is true that war has increased emissions, either directly, you know, through the activities of burning fossil fuels to get around and to make war, but also indirectly, as it bolsters military industries, and it causes destruction of the environment and takes cars out — I’m sorry, trees out of the job of sequestering carbon, and it harms other ways of storing carbon in the earth and in the oceans. So, war is a cause of climate change. It’s certainly not the only cause, but it is an important factor.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could talk more about what you call the U.S. military carbon bootprint, how it should include weapons manufacturers?

NETA CRAWFORD: Right. So, the United States military-industrial sector is about 15% of the entire industrial sector. In other words, you know, companies like Boeing, which are mostly commercial but have a large portion of their workforce devoted towards production of military aircraft, are on one end of the spectrum, and then there are companies like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, which are mostly devoted to military manufacturing. And those companies have high levels of emissions.

In fact, military industry and the military itself are very greenhouse gas-intensive. And this is because these are highly technical, greenhouse gas-intensive materials that are used. And then there’s all the testing and so on that is required to make these weapons. So, this portion of — the military-industrial portion of the economy is, in fact, more greenhouse gas-intensive compared to the civilian sector. And this is, at least in any one year, about the same or more emitting of greenhouse gases than the U.S. military. So, the U.S. military is the single largest energy user in the United States, but military industry is also an enormous energy user in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Neta Crawford, what surprised you most as you did your research for The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, two things. First of all, the facility with which the U.S. military adopted new technologies, such as the steam engine, such as switching from coal to oil, which tells me that the U.S. military actually could make another transition away from greenhouse gas-intensive activities and fuels, and they’re nimble at a tactical level.

But what also surprised me was how they’re not, in another sense, that they keep the same doctrine, the same activities, despite the reduced need for, for instance, protecting access to oil. As oil imports go down, as the Persian Gulf is less important to the United States in terms of a source of oil, the U.S. military could rethink its military posture and be as nimble as they are with technology, but they really haven’t. There has been a swerve or a pivot to Asia, but we still have thousands of troops there, and at least one aircraft carrier dedicated to Central Command, and all the surface ships that go along with that, when the risk is — of losing access to that oil is lower. And, in fact, we’re not using it as much. And even if we could burn it, we shouldn’t burn it. We need to reduce.

So, the U.S. military has to be part of the solution. They could be. They’ve been tactically innovative, but surprisingly very slow at realizing that they could change their doctrine.

AMY GOODMAN: And although I said “finally” — I famously often say “finally” at the end of an interview, so this is the last “finally,” though. And this goes back to Part 1 of our discussion about the Costs of War Project, “Blood and Treasure,” and the costs of war, the death toll, the expense. If you could go through this? We’re talking about well over half a million people, Iraqis and Syrians, you estimated, and could be four to five times higher, and over $3 trillion?

NETA CRAWFORD: Right. So, the largest single expense here will be healthcare, going into the future. OK, it’s the many U.S. servicemembers who were injured, sometimes very gravely, with multiple amputations, traumatic brain injury, musculoskeletal injuries and so on, exposure to toxics, people who will get cancer in the future or who have gotten so already. So, that’s the largest expenditure that’s ongoing.

But what we see is, you know, there’s about more than $860 billion were just spent on DOD operations, the so-called overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Syria. Then there’s an additional increase to the base military budget. So, the base military budget is the non-war budget that covers healthcare expenses for active-duty servicemembers and housing and all the rest of it. So, that has also increased as a part of the long war. Then there’s, in addition, some money that was spent to reconstruct Iraq. Much less, about $60 billion, $62 billion, were spent on reconstruction. What you see there is some of that was wasted, a good portion of it, but some of it was effective at reconstructing Iraq.

And then there’s the money that’s already been spent on healthcare and, in addition, interest on borrowing for these wars, because, of course, the War in Iraq nor the War in Afghanistan, neither of those conflicts were paid for through taxes that were raised specifically for fighting, so the U.S. went into deficit. And with that deficit comes interest, and we’re paying for it. We will be paying for these wars for a long time. So, that’s why the costs are so high — future health expenses, but the money we’ve already spent.

And then, when you talk about injuries, both in the region and U.S. and its allies, those are hundreds of thousands of people who are directly killed and injured. But then there’s also the indirect harm that comes from a war. So, when water treatment facilities were bombed and not repaired, or hospitals are bombed, or physicians and nurses and other healthcare workers flee a region, there’s a tremendous burden that’s placed on the remaining healthcare system. And many people are suffering because they don’t have access to preventive care or urgent or emergent care when they need it. And those — that’s the extra death or the indirect death or the extra morbidity and mortality that wouldn’t have occurred if there had not been a war, and certainly a war of this duration, which harmed the infrastructure and the ability of people to get healthcare and clean drinking water, everything that they need to have a decent life.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Neta Crawford, I want to thank you so much for being with us, for producing the report and the book. And you now can go back to your conference, where you are, in Montreal, Canada. Neta Crawford is professor of international relations at Oxford University and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University, where her new report is titled “Blood and Treasure: United States Budgetary Costs and Human Costs of 20 Years of War in Iraq and Syria, 2003-2023,” also author of the book The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions<. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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