Monday, October 28, 2019

Preparing For Conflict Produces Climate Change -- Professor Neta Crawford, Costs Of War Project

Professor Neta Crawford (second from left) spoke on October 26 in Portland to Peace Action Maine, receiving an award for her research into Pentagon greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Mark and I traveled to Portland to attend Peace Action Maine's annual awards ceremony and to hear a talk about research we've been following with interest. As a past recipient of PAM's award (most recently for writing this blog), I was pleased to see Prof. Crawford recognized for her work as well as local climate organizers Anna Siegel and Cassie Cain.

Anna Siegel of Climate Strike, Cassie Cain of 350 Maine and PAM board member Stephen Oliver

The talk was well worth the trip,

Professor Neta Crawford is co-director of the project which began in 2010 at Brown University. The project now includes Boston University where she is a member of the faculty. An update of her landmark paper "Pentagon fuel use, climate change, and the costs of war" will be published on the site next month.

Quantifying the human, financial, and environmental costs of the seemingly endless "global war on terror" led Crawford to focus for the past year on counting the contribution of Pentagon base operations plus overseas contingency operations (the federal government's preferred euphemism for wars) to climate change.

No one had computed the Pentagon’s climate footprint comprehensively before, so she wanted to do it.

Crawford noted that the global war on terror operates in 80-90 countries. She figures that 70% of fuel use is for base military operations, and 30% for overseas contingency operations i.e. wars.

Jet airplanes are heavy GHG emitters, especially military aircraft because they carry special equipment and fly at higher altitudes. Their consumption of fuel is so inefficient that it is measured, not in miles per gallon, but in gallons per mile.

The question most interesting to me that was posed by Prof. Crawford: Why don’t we know these numbers?

Some of her answers: Department of "Defense" personnel are explicitly told not to tell Congress their numbers. The Kyoto Protocol set the standard for how emissions are tallied, explicitly exempting the military, and there is still no legal treaty mechanism to compel states to give their military emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not aggregate the data on this, and EPA web site has no breakout by military. Congressional research service doesn’t provide them either, nor does the Congressional Budget Office.

The highly useful carbon computing website Drawdown also excludes military emissions because those numbers are unavailable. Media outlets likewise cannot report on what they do not know. (Investigative reporters out there: maybe give Prof. Crawford a call?)

Based on what she has been able to count, there was a GHG dividend parallel to the so-called peace dividend at the end of the Cold War period. Similarly, withdrawal from Iraq drove non-standard i.e. war-related emissions down beginning in 2011. And, facilities energy use has seen a steep decline as military bases close to the current level of around 800.

She did not count these significant contributors:

Which way will we go from here? Reform our current practices, transform our energy use and sourcing, or just keep barreling down the road toward Hell in a handbasket (Crawford noted that popular culture is fond of imagining dystopian futures)?

As early as 1990 the Navy began monitoring sea level rise. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is especially vulnerable and the Pentagon is well aware of this. Yet, protecting the Persian Gulf remains a primary Pentagon goal even as dependence on Middle East oil has declined.

The U.S. military prepares for the consequences of climate change, with little focus on the role of their own consumption and emissions as drivers of climate change. According to Crawford:

“Preparing for conflict produces climate change...Everything you do to reduce fuel use increases security”

Conclusion: we should be pushing our representatives and senators to focus on climate emergency as the real threat to our national security, and to act accordingly.

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