Book Review: The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War

The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions by Dr. Neta Crawford (MIT Press, 2022) could have been called Fully Burdened: The True Cost Of Energy Consumed by the Pentagon. “Fully burdened” is a concept that comes up repeatedly as Crawford examines what raw data she can find on military fuel use and its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  

Pentagon white papers define the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel as:

The commodity price for fuel plus the total cost of all personnel and assets required to move and, when necessary, protect the fuel from the point at which the fuel is received from the commercial supplier to the point of use.

Did you notice that GHG emissions are not included in the Pentagon’s definition of full cost? Therein lies the thesis of Crawford’s book.

As a full professor at Oxford University in Politics & International Relations, and as co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University here in the U.S., Crawford’s research has focused on an attempt to quantify military GHG emissions mostly by extrapolating from fuel purchase and usage data. This is necessary because, in a process detailed in her book, the U.S. has long insisted that the emissions of its military (and even intelligence sector) are privileged information not for the likes of us.

The Pentagon has steadily reduced its GHG emissions over the last two decades (mostly by closing bases and ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), it has developed many alternatives to fossil fuel use, and it extensively studies and prepares for climate crisis events that affect its installations and functions. However, Crawford and the rest of us are unable to account for why an obsession with “security” threatened by global climate change does not translate into an awareness of how the military itself — still, and for years, the biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the federal government AND the biggest single institutional consumer of fossil fuels on the planet — contributes to insecurity.

Crawford writes: 

In the late 1990s, U.S. political leadership had a choice to make. The United States could emphasize national security, which had traditionally been understood as requiring military force to protect national power and shape world events. This is security understood as the capacity to project power everywhere, essentially any time, to preserve U.S. global military dominance and promofte[sic] its economic interests. This was the familiar path, rooted in deep cycles of consumption, fossil fuel demand, military forces to protect access to fossil fuels..and back again, recursively, to ever higher levels of fossil fuel use and emissions.

Or the U.S. government and military leaders could have chosen an alternative path — to take advantage of the end of the Cold War to emphasize human security, which depends on ecological security.

Put this way, it sounds like nationalism is the problem, but that is not something Crawford addresses in her book. Indeed, her apparent acceptance of some of the whoppers told by the U.S. government about its wars e.g. 9/11 was an al-Qaeda operation, or that the U.S. fought, even defeated, ISIS in Iraq and Syria (without mention that with its other hand the U.S. was funding ISIS), reduce Crawford’s credibility as a political scientist.

The fact that she thinks Democrats offer meaningful solutions to the problem also strains credulity. Granted that anthropogenic climate change deniers among Republicans in Congress make it difficult to speak clearly about mitigating the effects of Pentagon emissions, but empty words about greening the military while simultaneously issuing new drilling permits on federal land do nothing to pull us back from the cliff of fatal climate chaos.

Crawford thus accepts some of the Pentagon’s pronouncements about our forever wars but not others. She writes:

Recall that in 1997, the Department of Defense warned the White House of the dire consequences that could flow, not from global warming, but from the Kyoto Protocol. They said that “imposing greenhouse gas emissions limitation on tactical and strategic military systems would…adversely impact operations and readiness.”

Now in 2023, we’re living with the reality of a U.S. Space Force that is hugely polluting, especially in the upper atmosphere where climate effects are longer lasting and more dire (Crawford touches on this briefly). 

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, author of Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race, said in a recent podcast shared on Truthout

The environmental damage that the contemporary space race is doing is one of the most under-discussed crises of our contemporary moment.

..Billionaires like Elon Musk have promoted fantasies that humanity’s best hope, in the face of an apocalyptic crisis, lies in the colonization of space. Jeff Bezos has argued that the extractive industrialization of space will ultimately make life on Earth sustainable.

So again we find that the solutions offered to climate catastrophe are actually driving us ever faster toward…climate catastrophe.

Some international scholars and journalists think the solutions lie elsewhere. From the blog and podcast Chronicles of Haiphong on the recent BRICS summit:

Pepe Escobar: In a room in Johannesburg, you have a Cuban who’s the leader of the new non-aligned movement, with all these leaders from the developing world, most of them Africans, meeting exclusively with Xi Jinping to discuss sustainable development. Everything about sustainable development. So this is something that you obviously won’t read in the New York Times or the Washington Post..

Michael Hudson: You also pointed out quite correctly that the key to all of this is indeed oil and energy. That’s what the Western press cannot discuss [emphasis mine] because the center point of all U.S. foreign policy since 1945 has been the international oil industry.

Crawford’s work on computing the true and fully burdened costs of continuing to do business in this fashion will remain useful. I especially appreciated her analysis of the climate impact of military air shows which are frequent insanely polluting prestige events for the military that contribute nothing to national security.

But real solutions to climate chaos will require stepping out of the box of conducting foreign policy as if the U.S. were the center of the world and not just a mere 6% of the total global population. Is U.S. military or political leadership capable of this kind of planetary thinking? I doubt it.

BRICS Summit vs. Camp David

In sharp contrast to the BRICS summit in South Africa ushering in a “multilateral organization that will shape the contours of a new system of international relations,” (Pepe Escobar), the U.S. hosted Japan and South Korea at Camp David to hammer out a three-way military alliance between grossly unequal partners.

From Sara Flounders writing in Workers World:

The military pact of South Korea and Japan with the U.S. intentionally damages both the South Korean and Japanese economies, as China has been the major trading partner of both countries. However, right-wing militarists in office in each country seem willing to act against their own people’s interests.

The U.S. government has long maintained separate defense pacts with both countries. Based on Japan’s brutal 35-year colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula, from 1910 to 1945, there remains deep hostility among the Korean people toward Japan. Nevertheless, based on U.S. pressure, the regimes have now become “partners” against China.

Excerpt from the White House statement:

Pre­sident Biden commended President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida for their courageous leadership in transforming relations between Japan and the ROK. With the renewed bonds of friendship—and girded by the ironclad U.S.-Japan and U.S.-ROK alliances—each of our bilateral relationships is now stronger than ever. So too is our trilateral relationship.

My translation: the deeply unpopular President Yoon making nice with colonial exploiter Japan was a prerequisite for the new war pact against China.

In an interesting parallel, it now appears that China and Russia’s brokering of an historic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year paved the way for both nations to join BRICS. 

Now being termed BRICS 11 because six nations have joined the original five of the acronym (the other new members are the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia).

From BRICS fan Escobar writing in The Cradle:

Here is the Johannesburg II Declaration of the 15th BRICS summit. BRICS 11 is just the start. There’s a long line eager to join; without referring to the dozens of nations (and counting) that have already “expressed their interest”, according to the South Africans, the official list, so far, includes Algeria, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Venezuela, Vietnam, Guinea, Greece, Honduras, Indonesia, Cuba, Kuwait, Morocco, Mexico, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkiye and Syria.

So while the bigger, wealthier group forges ahead with a comprehensive agreement to reign in predatory debt mechanisms of the West against the Global South and, incidentally, to reject new members if they sanction existing BRICS nations, the U.S. continues looking for a nation to play the role of Ukraine in its planned war against China.

As blogger Andrew Korybko observed:

the recent Sino-Filipino incident that was sparked by Manila’s failed attempt to smuggle construction materials to a disputed reef could have been timed to precede the latest trilateral talks and this week’s joint drills, thus enabling them to be spun as defense measures instead of provocations..

All of this leads to “pacifist” Japan saber-rattling against China in its South Sea on the Philippines’ behalf in support of their shared US patrons’ “rules-based order”, which solidifies their nascent trilateral alliance.. and consequently advances the AUKUS+ agenda of “containing” China.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects have been busy on the information war front.

An investigation by Alan MacLeod of MintPress News found that the FBI and the government of Taiwan have been working together to spread hate against China in the U.S.

Official documents reviewed by “MintPress News” show that the Taiwanese government is attempting to drum up anti-China hostility, influence and intimidate American politicians and is even working with the FBI and other agencies to spy on and prosecute Chinese American citizens.

Key points of this investigation
• Taiwanese officials are monitoring Chinese Americans and passing intelligence to the FBI in attempts to have them prosecuted.
• Taiwan is working with “friends” in media and politics to create a culture of fear towards China and Chinese people in the US
• Taiwanese officials claim they are “directing” and “guiding” certain US politicians.
• Taiwan is monitoring and helping to intimidate U.S. politicians they deem to be too pro-China.
• The island is spending millions funding US think tanks that inject pro-Taiwan and anti-China talking points into American politics.

Why do nations like Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines, for whom China is a huge trading partner, submit to U.S. demands that run counter to their own economic interests?

Because if you don’t submit, they do this to you: “The Outcome Of American Interference In Pakistan.

But much of the world is banding together to say Enough! Note that BRICS came out strongly against war in space, and in favor of arms control treaties in what the U.S. predictably rejects in its key “warfighting domain.” Indeed, satellite communications have been integral to the U.S./NATO waging their proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.

Full disclosure: I work for the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space which is prominently featured in Jeremy Kuzmarov’s article.

It appears that war has hastened ongoing cooperation with Russia by many nations — in direct opposition to its stated goal of isolating Putin and his government. For example, check out this speech by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki at the BRICS summit denouncing “U.S. exceptionalism” on the grounds that “it has gravely impaired global progress for over a century now.”

I think we can all agree that century is behind us, and history is now remaking itself.