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Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than some countries, study says

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The U.S. government plays a big role in contributing to climate change, which has grown increasingly a part of our daily lives and is threatening the planet, a new research study found Wednesday.

The Pentagon produced 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 alone, more than Sweden and Denmark, according to astudyreleased by Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs.

The study finds the Pentagon’s emissions to be “greater than many smaller countries’ total greenhouse gas emissions” in any year from 2001 to 2017.

“If it were a country, it would have been the world’s 55th largest greenhouse gas emitter,” says lead author and Boston University political scientist Neta Crawford, who is a part of Brown’s program, adding that the Defense Department is the world’s single largest consumer of oil.

Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, making the planet’s climate warmer. The most prevalent gas is carbon dioxide, which enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, and other biological materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The study is the first of its kind to compile such comprehensive data, which is based on the publicly available emissions data from the Department of Energy for recent years.

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The atmospheric carbon dioxide level for March was 411.97 parts per million and continue to rise. It has now reached levels in the atmosphere not seen in 3 million years.

Crawford writes that the Department of Defense has produced a total of 527 million metric tons of CO2 from 2010 to 2017, an average of about 66 million metric tons per year in this period.

The U.S. generates the second largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to China, according to the EPA.

Department of Defense spokeswoman Heather Babb declined comment to USA TODAY about the study, but said in a statement the Department of Defense energy program’s chief priority is supporting the ability to carry out its mission to deter war and ensure national security.

“DOD also works to enhance military capability, improve energy security and resilience, and mitigate costs in its use and management of energy, while diversifying and expanding energy supplies and sources, including renewable energy sources and alternative fuels,” she said.

Crawford estimates that war-related emissions from 2001 to 2017 – including for the “overseas contingency operations” in the major war zones of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria – total more than 400 million metric tons.

The study also notes the greenhouse gas reduction efforts made by the Pentagon, but Crawford writes that there is “a lot of room to reduce emissions” in the military: it would make a noticeable difference if the Pentagon started rethinking whether certain missions are necessary.

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She told USA TODAY that everyday Americans can affect missions by urging their congressmen to “close [military] stations that are at risk” to climate change and to “rethink procurement of those thirsty [fuel-guzzling] weapons.”

Crawford also said that there are certain activities that Americans can do as well to help reduce U.S.’s dependency on oil. The Pentagon could put more progress behind the push toward sustainability if it reduced the number of its missions made to the Persian Gulf for oil.

“If all Americans used less fossil fuels we’d have less interest,” she said, specifying that consumers can switch to a hybrid vehicle or install solar panels on their roofs.

The world’s top climate scientists say countries all over the world must take “unprecedented” and immediate action to prevent the catastrophic impact of an escalating climate crisis.

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Follow Elinor Aspegren on Twitter: @elinoraspegren

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