Saturday, May 01, 2010

The US Military Carbon Bootprint

The Department of Defense is proclaimed to be doing more than sounding an alarm when it comes to energy and environment. It is true that the DoD has enacted energy goals and is doing all it can to pave the way to a more efficient use of energy through inventing, testing and deploying new technologies and alternative fuels. DoD set a goal of having 25 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2025. This is correct but not complete. Because this 25% target applies to installation energy and fleet vehicles only. Operational energy (energy used by tactical vehicles) is excluded. And yet most of DoD energy consumption is for operational energy. It is sad that most people fall in this unclear definition trap.

The recent Pew Charitable Trusts report, "Re-energizing America's Defense: How the Armed Forces Are Stepping Forward to Combat Climate Change and Improve U.S. Energy Posture," falls in this trap too. The report outlines how the department and military services are moving toward the goal of leading the effort in discovering ways to not only use less fuel, but also to use alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gasses and be less reliant on foreign oil. The PEW report says that “Our examination finds that the U.S. military is clearly working to address the twin threats of energy dependence and climate change.” It goes on telling that each of US military assets consumes energy, “adds to the military’s fuel bill and contributes to the nation’s carbon pollution that causes global warming.” But the report fails to give any number on DoD’s carbon pollution. This is the common feature almost all reports written by lazy people. Yes, the report is very well presented, gives a good summary of the military services efforts towards a green future BUT doesn’t bother to look at the primary source of information. Therefore it is just a collection of news reports and other reports.

Yes, the DoD takes climate change seriously. Just look at the 2010 QDR released on 1 February 2010. It is the first time QDR gives that much space to energy and climate. The QDR expects climate change to act as a “threat multiplier” and threaten America’s security. Military services are already racing with each other to demonstrate their efforts for a green military. For instance, Secretary Mabus gives on every occasion examples of how the Navy is going "green."

I mentioned several times on my blog that the US military is the single largest consumer of oil in the world. Despite all the fuss the DoD is making about climate change, going green etc, the US military is the single largest source of world’s environmental pollution. Indeed, the militaries around the world are serious contributors to human unhealthiness due to radiation from nuclear explosions and from the use of ammunition with depleted uranium, to agricultural degradation due to cluster bombs and landmines, to loss of forest cover due to bombs (think of Vietnam war), and to ecological devastation due to toxic materials and hazardous wastes.

It was very surprising to me throughout my investigation on military and environment that most of the writings on this subject were done by females (men look at the good sides of the story) or non-capitalists. I liked article the article of Revolutionary Communist Party (A Dirty Little Secret of Capitalism: The U.S. Military Is One of the World’s Largest Polluters, the Revolution #199, April 18, 2010). Below I give some quotes from that article with no comment:

“But now the military has been announcing how they are “going green”….The twist is what this renewable power is used for. One sharp example—the U.S. Navy base torture center in Guantánamo is powered by a wind/diesel plant. So while prisoners are locked away indefinitely without charge and tortured, the military carrying out the torture is using “green technology”…. Claiming to “go green” (to defend U.S. interests), the U.S. military is a major source of climate change while warring on the planet….In addition to carbon emissions, the U.S. military is also one of the world’s major sources of other kinds of pollution and toxic waste. U.S. military bases, in the U.S. and especially worldwide, have spilled, dumped and left a toxic mess of petroleum products, solvents, chemical defoliants and heavy metals contaminating the soil, groundwater and waterways.”

The Kyoto Protocol (December 1997) exempts the emissions associated with U.S. military activities outside USA. Why? Because, supposedly, inclusion of military operations in a climate change treaty is inconsistent with the international obligations of military forces.

These emissions are not counted in the national inventory either. In fact, they are not counted in anyone’s inventory. Why do environmental groups decline either to raise the exemption as an issue or to comment for this story despite repeated proclaims that climate change is “a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.”

It is argued that “of the petroleum purchased by the military in 2008, the Pentagon’s Defense Energy Support Center says more than a third—47.4 million barrels—was burned overseas. According to EPA, that translates into 20.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, more than the total emissions of 129 individual countries. And that figure does not take into account the greenhouse gas emissions associated with other aspects of international military activity—like the dropping of bombs and destruction of buildings—on which there is little scientific literature and even less desire on the part of political leaders to address.” (see, Military Exemption Fuels Lingering Doubts About Global Climate Controls)

A report from Oil Change International estimated the carbon footprint of the Iraq war (A Climate of War) found it responsible for “at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent” since March 2003. “To put this in perspective, CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US this year,” the report says.

Question1: How large is the carbon bootprint of the US military?

According to my calculations, CO2 emissions of the US military in 2008 amounted close to 75 Million ton. How big is it? Well, more than California emitted in 2008. In other words, the US military (if it were a state) would be 13th largest CO2 emitting state in the United States. (see State Rankings)

Question2: How large is the US military carbon bootprint in continental US and outside the US?

To be able to answer this question you should know how much fuel the US military consumes inside and outside of the US. I am afraid, even the DoD cannot answer that! Because we don’t know precisely how much energy is consumed by the US military abroad broken down by operational and installation energy. The problem is twofold: First, how is energy consumption in the overseas bases maintained by the U.S. military counted or calculated? Energy consumed in US overseas bases are probably included in the host nation’s energy and emissions inventory but I do not believe that this is the case in every country. Because host countries may count fuel delivered to the US bases as export (believe me I dealt with this issue more than 10 years ago when I was heading the non-OECD energy statistics section at the International Energy Agency in Paris). Second, is all fuel counted? I have big doubts on that. I wrote on this issue why. Overall, I believe that the US military energy consumption (particularly oil) is larger than what the DoD reports. Again, I don’t blame the DoD. They also don’t know.

Question3: Can we estimate?

Partially yes. Let me try…First, a bit background from the EPA reports: According to the UNFCCC reporting guidelines emissions from international transport activities, or bunker fuels, should not be included in national totals. U.S. energy consumption statistics include these bunker fuels (e.g., distillate fuel oil, residual fuel oil, and jet fuel) as part of consumption by the transportation end-use sector. But bunker fuel amount can be estimated. Consumption of these fuels is then subtracted from the corresponding fuels in the transportation end-use sector.

Military aviation bunkers include international operations, operations conducted from naval vessels at sea, and operations conducted from U.S. installations principally over international water in direct support of military operations at sea. Military aviation bunker fuel emissions are estimated using military fuel and operations data synthesized from unpublished data by the Defense Energy Support Center. Together, the data allow the quantity of fuel used in military international operations to be estimated. Densities for each jet fuel type were obtained from a more than a decade old report from the U.S. Air Force.

To keep in mind: Only the fuel purchased in the US and used by aircraft taking-off from the US are reported. Estimates for the quantity fuel actually used in Navy and Air Force flying activities reported as bunker fuel emissions are based on a combination of available data and expert judgment. Estimates of marine bunker fuel emissions are based on Navy vessel steaming hour data, which reports fuel used while underway and fuel used while not underway.

Total oil consumption by the US military in 2008 was 348,000 barrels per day. Of this amount almost 129,000 barrels per day was delivered and consumed in the US. The rest, 219,000 barrels per day was consumed outside the US (including the so called bunker fuels). Assuming that 20% of total installation energy consumption occurred in overseas bases, in total we come up with about 35 million ton of CO2 eq emissions arising from the US military activities abroad. Yes, nearly half of total US military CO2 emissions. Or, something like Minnesota or Kansas emitted in 2008. And yes, these emissions are accounted nowhere!

I want to hear what supporters of the importance of military in fighting with climate change have to say on that.

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At 8:37 AM, Blogger Wayan said...

Dear Sohbet,

Good works, great insights!

We are just starting a project to collect and analyse information on the environmental, energy and climatic impacts of the global military.

We are aware that too often, in fact almost always, the effects of the military on these important matters is overlooked when research is undertaken, policy is formulated or political action contemplated. The steady increase in military expenditures during the last decade, the increasing destructiveness of new weapons systems and the devastating effects on civilian infrastructure and environments is of mounting concern, but is rarely studied and is poorly understood. In a phrase, too often the military's effects on us all 'flies under the radar'.

One approach we are considering is developing an 'environment/energy/climate' footprint for each of the major weapons systems used by the major military nations. To do this we need to identify the important weapons and weapon systems and make estimates of the resource using demands and the emissions (pollution) for each one. The next step will be to identify how many of each of these systems the major militaries have and then find ways of estimating their (annual) operational patterns. This approach may provide a fairly accurate means for developing a preliminary global estimate of the impact of the military on Earth's resources and environment.

I have looked quite carefully through the information on SIPRI's, the same goes for Global Footprint's websites but I have not been able to identify any information on specific (major) weapons systems. I have, of course, already done fairly careful web searches to see what information may be available - the results have been rather disappointing ... Hence I am wondering if you have collected this kind of information since you posted this blog or, if not, if you can suggest other organisations or individuals it may be worth contacting.



At 9:46 PM, Blogger sohbet karbuz said...

Dear Sean,
This is an extremely difficult task. To achieve that would require knwoing the quantities of weapons systems, their fuel burn rates, utilisation rates and CO2 emissions.

For aircraft that could maybe be possible. The Air Force aircraft inventory is given in May issues of Air Force magazine at For Navy, it should be collected from various sources but I haven't seen any complete list broken down by aircraft type.

Some aircraft fuel burn rates are available but at the end you will have problem of finding the utilization rates of aircraft.

CO2 emissions are not available by aircraft type.

Similar problem arises for Navy ships and Army tactical ground vehicles.

Again, to collect all these and make a reasonable estimation is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

I wish I could be of any help


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