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Durham University

Durham University News


US military bigger polluter than most countries

(19 June 2019)

Surprised by the headline? No wonder when discussions about greenhouse gas emissions tend to focus on statistics for countries, not institutions. But research from our Department of Geography, in partnership with Lancaster University, found that the US military’s carbon footprint is so big it outranks that of most countries in the world.

Colossal carbon ‘boot print’

The researchers looked at the carbon ‘boot print’ of the US Defence Logistics Agency-Energy (DLA-E), the primary buyer of fossil fuels for the US military. With a purchase power of this scale, they’re a powerful actor on the global oil market. 

In 2017 the US military purchased over 269,000 barrels of oil a day. The US Air Force purchased over $4.9 billion worth of fuel that year, and the US Navy purchased $2.8 billion. 

The US military is the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, when looking at emissions from fuel use. When comparing the US military’s fuel usage to the 2014 World Bank data around liquid fuel consumption by country, the researchers found that the US military was comparable to Peru and Portugal.

The fuel powers everything from routine base operations in the USA to bases oversees such as in Afghanistan.

Fossil fuel legacy

The US military is the single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world, something the research team argues needs to be addressed as part of global commitments to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, this dependence on fossil fuels is unlikely to change in the short-term given the life cycles of existing military aircraft and warships, which lock the US military into fossil fuels for years to come.

The research team suggests bold approaches are needed to reduce US military dependence on fossil fuels to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and de-incentivise use of fossil fuels for their future infrastructure.

Find out more

This research was co-authored by Dr Oliver Belcher in our Department of Geography

You can read the full research paper, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers here

Follow the discussion in The Conversation here.

Discover more about our Energy and Clean Growth research theme here

Find out more about undergraduate and postgraduate study opportunities in our Department of Geography here