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U.S. tanks appear during a military training exercise in May of 2016 in Vaziani, Georgia. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Climate Crisis Cannot Be Solved Without Addressing US Military Emissions, Says Ocasio-Cortez

"There's no way we're going to" reduce greenhouse gas pollution "if we don't measure it and if we don't commit to it," said the New York Democrat, in a rebuke of the omission of military emissions from national climate targets.

Kenny Stancil

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday denounced the exclusion of military emissions from national decarbonization pledges, arguing—in concert with scores of climate justice advocates—that ignoring a key source of greenhouse gas pollution makes it impossible to fully understand and tackle the planetary emergency.

"When we have global conferences about cutting emissions, to omit conversations about military investment is to omit measuring our CO2 emissions," Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told Abby Martin, host of "The Empire Files," in response to the journalist's question about whether greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by the U.S. armed forces should be included in President Joe Biden's vow to cut carbon pollution in half from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other U.S. delegates to COP26, when asked a similar question by Martin the day before, said that the climate crisis is a "national security issue" requiring a greener, but not a smaller, U.S. military—a framing that scholars and activists have argued is ominous and dangerous.

"You just presided over a large increase in the Pentagon budget," Martin said to the panel. Annual U.S. military spending, which accounts for more than half of the federal discretionary budget, is approaching $780 billion after the House Armed Services Committee in September voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment to add $23.9 billion on top of Biden's proposed $753 billion military budget for fiscal year 2022—already up from the $740 billion approved for the previous fiscal year under the Trump administration.

"This Pentagon budget is already massive," she added. The U.S. spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined and is poised to funnel even more money to private contractors because, despite the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, congressional Republicans—as well as Democrats who receive significant campaign contributions from the weapons industry—have rejected amendments to reduce Pentagon funding.

"The Pentagon is a larger polluter than 140 countries combined," said Martin. "How can we seriously talk about 'net zero,'" she asked, "if there is this bipartisan consensus to constantly expand this large contributor to climate change, which is exempt from these conferences?"

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tried to dispute the notion that "increasing the defense budget... is inconsistent with climate action," suggesting that the Pentagon has a positive role to play in addressing society's existential threat even though the available evidence shows that U.S. militarism has exacerbated human suffering and environmental destruction.

Pelosi, for her part, said that "because of all of the conditions that [the] climate crisis produces"—including "migration and conflict over habitat and resources"—it is a "security challenge globally." But instead of endorsing popular calls to slash Pentagon spending and use the resulting peace dividend to fund a Green New Deal, Pelosi sidestepped Martin's question and emphasized the need for the U.S. military to reduce its "dependence on fossil fuels."

As Martin noted, the U.S. military's "carbon bootprint" is larger than 140 countries combined, but military-driven pollution is not required to be included in the emission reduction targets discussed by diplomats at global climate talks, including the ongoing United Nations meeting in Glasgow, which has been criticized for generating yet another round of woefully inadequate plans.

It's not just the U.S. military that has been avoiding scrutiny for its escalation of the climate crisis, as The Guardian reported Thursday:

The world's militaries combined, and the industries that provide their equipment, are estimated to create 6% of all global emissions, according to Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR).

Owing to what they describe as a "large loophole" in the Paris agreement, governments are not required to provide full data on greenhouse gases being emitted by armed forces. Previously, under the Kyoto protocol, militaries were given an automatic exemption from CO2 targets, after lobbying from the U.S. government.

Campaigners say the current situation, whereby it is only voluntary for states to include armed forces in their carbon-cutting obligations, is undermining efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Ocasio-Cortez made the same point Wednesday when speaking with Martin. "There's no way we're going to draw it down," she said—referring to GHG pollution, including that which is caused by the U.S. military, the world's largest consumer of petroleum—"if we don't measure it and if we don't commit to it."

The New York Democrat's comments came one week after Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution demanding that the Pentagon account for its ecological impacts, and establish emission reduction targets consistent with the Paris agreement, which seeks to avert the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis by limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by the end of the century.

Over the course of the past two weeks, activists in and beyond Glasgow have been attempting to draw attention to military emissions while urging governments to stop concealing them and start cutting them. A petition organized by the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) has garnered the support hundreds of groups, and another led by World Beyond War has been signed by more than 27,000 individuals.

Earlier this week, CEOBS launched the Military Emissions Gap website, which allows viewers to track the difference between the amount of GHG pollution countries report to the United Nations and how much they are responsible for when military emissions are included.

"There can't be any genuine discussion about addressing climate change if we're not including the military," Ramón Mejía, an Iraq War veteran and anti-militarism organizer with Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, told Democracy Now! earlier this week. "The military, as we know, is the largest consumer of fossil fuels and also the largest emitter of [the] greenhouse gases most responsible for the climate disruption."

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