Will war ever be carbon neutral?


in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Politics, Security, The environment

Ideally, the next few decades will see all the world’s economies begin the difficult transition towards carbon neutrality, so as to stop anthropogenic climate change. Fossil fuels will represent a progressively smaller share of what drives vehicles and power plants, and complimentary measures will enhance carbon sinks.

If all that happens in the civilian sphere, is there any chance we will see it in the military? Military vehicles are definitely fuel hogs: whether it is supersonic fighter jets or main battle tanks driven by gas turbines.

It seems plausible that armies will be the last hold-out, when it comes to achieving carbon neutrality. National security has almost always been given priority over civilian needs, especially in non-democratic states. Furthermore, if weapons that produce large amounts of greenhouse gases are more effective than those that do not, any state with current or possible future enemies will find their military strategists unwilling to abandon them. It is also plausible that climate change itself will produce a more dangerous world, in which politicians and the public are even more supportive of developing military strength than they are now.

Perhaps the armed forces are such a small share of total emissions that this isn’t really a problem. Indeed, it does seem plausible that we can cut down the level of emissions to the point where the risk of climate change is much diminished, without having to tinker with them at all. Still, the question of how to move to a carbon-neutral world entirely unthreatened by climate change will eventually involve the question of how to get generals to give up their carbon-intensive habits, perhaps after titans of business and ordinary citizens have eventually done so.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. June 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Over the very long term, maybe war will become carbon neutral by accident.

Once all civilian technology is carbon neutral, that is where the great majority of the world’s research and innovation will happen. Maybe that will eventually lead to weapons and weapon platforms far more advanced than those available now and powered by fossil fuels.

That said, it is very hard to imagine what alternative there could be for high-performance aircraft.

Adrian June 12, 2010 at 7:59 am

I think I read somewhere last year that the carbon footprint of the US military was 250 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent. About 3-4% of their total emissions, or more than a third of all of Canada’s emissions, and more than the Netherlands, a nation of 16 million.

For their part, the military is also interested in some clean energy technologies, because they can reduce logistics challenges and may have other benefits, like reducing heat signatures from engines.

Milan June 13, 2010 at 8:47 pm

This ties back somewhat to a previous discussion: Cooperation tipping points?

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