Calculating the per capita emissions of the military-industrial complex
Speaking Security Newsletter | Note n°192 | 24 January 2023
Overview of military-related emissions
The Pentagon has three main tailpipes for planet-heating gasses: installations, operations, and industry. Installation-related emissions are byproducts of the energy used to heat, cool, and otherwise run hundreds of thousands of military-owned buildings worldwide. Operational emissions largely come from burning petroleum products like jet and diesel fuel, and industry emissions accompany the production of armaments contracted out to private sector firms.
The three are interrelated to an extent. For example, a considerable amount of operational energy goes into sustaining the US military’s vast network of ~750 overseas bases with equipment deliveries, personnel rotations, etc. In addition to lower installation and operational emissions, a leaner military posture abroad might also help catalyze lower demand for weapons production.
Shrinking the military’s global bootprint to reduce its carbon footprint is my pitch in a recent article I wrote for Outrider. Legislating for the climate crisis is increasingly difficult, but there are still productive actions Biden can take without Congress. Closing unnecessary or counterproductive overseas bases is one of them. What I didn’t mention in the piece but will here is that advocating for this policy would present a great opportunity for the peace and climate movements to collaborate, which is something that doesn’t happen as much as it should.
Calculating the per capita emissions of the US military-industrial complex
Results: The US military-industrial complex has more people than 62 countries, pollutes more than 167 countries, and produces higher per capita emissions than all countries.
Methodology: For military-related emissions data, I referred to the Costs of War Project; for the size of the war economy workforce, I used data from Brookings. Other resources are available to calculate these numbers, but these two had best methodological alignment. For the year considered (2017), between the Pentagon’s civilian employees, active duty and reserve forces, and the contractors and subcontractors in the private sector, the military-industrial complex directly or indirectly employed more than 3.2 million people. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s buildings, operations, and the industry it sustains produced nearly 340 million metric tons of CO2e (that’s more than Egypt, a country of over 100 million people).
Alt text for screen readers: The U.S. military-industrial complex pollutes more per person than any country. This chart has ten orange bars representing the per capita emissions of ten entities. Nine are countries with the highest per capita emissions in the world, and one is the U.S. military-industrial complex. Ranked by per capita emissions, the U.S. military industrial complex sits at the top with 104.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per person. Ranked at a distant second is Qatar, at 40.4, followed by Bahrain (33.6), Kuwait (32.3), Turkmenistan (26.5), UAE (26.2), Botswana (25.5), Australia (25.5), Saudi Arabia (22) and Canada (20.7). Military emissions per capita calculated by author, based on data from Neta Crawford (Costs of War Project) and Paul Light (Brookings). Country emissions data via World Resources Institute. Only countries with populations above 1.5 million are included. All figures are for 2017.