Warming The Planet—And Keeping America Safe?—With Your Tax Dollars One quarter of Americans' tax burden goes to the U.S. military, one of the world's largest CO2 emitters

The United States’ Global War on Terror has been raging for 18 years and has already racked up costs of $5.9 trillion in federal spending, over 480,000 deaths due to direct war violence, and 21 million war refugees and displaced persons.

The war’s toll on the environment is heavy too. As detailed on the Watson Institute at Brown University’s public website Costs of War, the worst environmental impact of the War on Terror is hastening of global warming. Here’s why…

War’s Contribution To Climate Crisis

With over 500 military bases worldwide, counter-terrorism operations in more than 80 countries, and an armed force of more than two million people, the U.S. military relies heavily on burning fossil fuels and is the largest institutional producer of greenhouse gases (GHGs) worldwide. If it were a country, the emissions from fuel usage alone would rank it the 47th largest emitter.

Our military’s post-9/11 operations in the major war zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria have produced more than 400 million metric tons of GHG emissions (measured in CO2 equivalents), as detailed in a special report from the Watson Institute. This is comparable to the annual emissions of 85 million passenger vehicles.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is already planning for inevitable climate change which it views as a “threat multiplier” of existing security threats. Yet, the DOD turns a blind eye to the military’s hefty contribution to the warming planet.

It’s utterly ironic that, by planning for even greater future reliance on fossil fuels, the military is fomenting the very political unrest that draws the United States into conflicts. Take Syria, for example, where climate change worsened the drought which fostered civil war and mass migration.

This blind spot likely stems from a little known detail of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol pushed by the United States: an exemption for military-related GHG emissions in tallying a country’s emissions.

Your tax contribution to wars

The United States spends more on defense that the next nine countries combined. Military spending is the second largest chunk of the federal budget, after healthcare, and accounts for over half of discretionary spending.

Consider 2018. Congress allocated $670.6 billion to fund the DOD and its “overseas contingency operations” fighting the Islamic State, plus $186.5 billion for the Veterans Affairs Administration, totaling $857.1 billion in military and war-related spending. Of the $4.1 trillion in total federal spending, more than one in five dollars (20.9 percent) went to fund the military and veterans.

The nongovernmental organization National Priorities Project tracks annually where your federal tax dollars go. In 2018, you forked out 29.5 cents of every federal tax dollar for military (24 cents) and veteran (5.9 cents) support.

The military’s failure to account for what it spends and on what is shocking. The Pentagon ignored a 1990 Congressional order that all governmental agencies provide yearly audited financial statements until 2014 when 1,200 auditors were hired to comply for the first time. After four years and at a taxpayer cost of $400 million, the auditors threw up their hands in 2018 because the military’s record keeping was impossible to decipher.

Whether you personally believe the Global War on Terror has made the world safer, it’s incumbent upon us taxpayers to understand the real costs to people and the planet of this perpetual state of war funded by our tax dollars. Given we have just over a decade to rein in GHG emissions to avert the most devastating effects of climate change, we should be demanding that our government divert tax dollars and military might away from creating human carnage and environmental destruction and focus instead on stemming and preparing for global warming.

Majorities of Americans now believe that climate change is happening and caused by human activities, that CO2 should be regulated as a pollutant, and that the President and Congress should be addressing the problem.

There are encouraging signs that Congress is finally coming around. Six bills that slash GHG emissions by putting a price on carbon have been introduced in the current session. There’s also widespread agreement among economists, both conservatives and liberals, that pricing carbon (and returning the money to consumers as dividends or tax credits) is the most cost-effective route to a green energy economy. Stay tuned.