Military carbon footprint

Military carbon footprint

Today, we want to talk about the military carbon footprint, because the environment is rarely taken into consideration when making important decisions. Unless there is a huge public outcry and media attention to defend the environment.


When choosing war, Putin took costs into consideration. Sanctions, isolation, political power, civil unrest…

Definitely not the environmental impact.

The human cost is so high that the environmental cost doesn’t even seem relevant. How can we talk about trees and natural habitat when civilians are killed and displaced ?
You are right, and somehow… that’s today’s topic.


The military carbon footprint

When “national security” is concerned, mentioning CO2 impact is ridiculous. And yet, the impact is far from negligible.


Between 2001 and 2017, the US military (Department of Defense, DoD) produced 1.2 billion tons of CO2.
That’s a lot. It’s 255 million cars a year.


In 2020, France emitted 250 million tons. 16 years of DoD emissions is equal to almost 5 years of France’s.


We already hear you rage: “the DoD is doing stuff: they bombed Irak, Syria, Afghanistan, what did France do besides baguette ?”.

Maybe, but that’s 67 million people, against 1 million US soldiers. And they wished they had some baguettes…


The DoD consumes 47 million litres of gas per day.


Another example: a US bombing in Syria with two B-2 bombers in 2017, produced 1000 tons of CO2

That’s equal to a year of consumption of 121 French (on average, 8.2 tons of CO2 per French), to kill 80 people.
You might argue that killing them removed their carbon footprint. But, the average carbon footprint of an ISIS member is low. Target Qataris instead.
Bull & Bear cannot be held responsible for any bombings directed at Qatar by Green Peace or Extinction Rebellion. Have some tofu and quinoa, light some encens. We’re (hopefully) going to be fine.


The war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Irak and Syria created 400 million tons of CO2. Note that this is the emission to destroy everything, all the rebuilding is not taken into account.

And that’s just the DoD. They are not the only ones to have military power.
The UK military accounts for 11 million tons of CO2 per year.

Europe’s military activity emits 24 million tons of CO2 per year, with 8 million tons from France.


We were not able to find numbers for China, Russia, or India. And they have huge armies as well.


How to reduce the footprint

You could argue that the best way to lower the militarys’ footprint, would be to reduce it.

If only Luxembourg’s military was a standard, emissions would shrink.


Buuuut, it’s we are not heading towards military sobriety. Everyone freaking out against Russia (for good reasons).


Nonetheless, NATO is pushing to have better reporting. It’s the first step to allow improvement.

There are already some improvements that are quite clear. Having less infrastructure (buildings) and improving their energy efficiency. Reducing the idle time of jets and cars.

Another huge change would be to impose energy-efficient equipment.
For example, the F-35 burns 5 600 litres per hourOne full tank is 28 tons of emissions. When the F-16 burned “only” 3 500 litres per hour.


A Humvee, the military Hummer, burns 40 l/100km. That’s way above the 95g/km of CO2 imposed in Europe.


We should also report that the DoD already improved its footprint. In 2004 they emitted 85 million tons of CO2, when in 2017 it was “only” 59 million tons.


In our next article, we will focus on more specific examples. The current war in Ukraine, and some other fun facts from previous conflicts. Things that would be unthinkable today, but we did them.


Fun Fact: under the Paris Agreement, military emissions can be counted. Or not. That’s up to the country. How can you easily lower your emissions ?

Don’t report them, voilà...


Conflict’s environmental impact

We’ve discussed the impact of the military, mainly from a CO2 perspective.
We must, not forget that CO2 might be the least problematic impact a war can have.
It is also difficult to estimate the CO2 emissions.

For starters, what do you count in the emissions ?
Emissions during the production, operating, and transport of the equipment ?
Should the consequences of the war also be included? In such case, you could include:

The emissions created by population migration ?
What about reconstruction ?
The impact of the destruction of forests and wildlife ?
Fires induced by the bombings ?
The change in energy policy because of sanctions ?
Russia torching gas ?
The increase in military spending throughout the world ?


The destruction of Ukraine

In the preparation phase of the war, Russian activities emitted 136 000 tons of CO2.

Keep in mind that one Russian tank consumes 400 l/100 km.

Reconstruction is estimated at $349 billion. Behind all these billions, CO2 emissions hides.

Beyond the emissions, Ukraine also suffered from other pollution.

The destruction of cities and factories releases chemicals and heavy metals into the air, ground, and water. 


Since the war, Ukraine has had more than 100 wildfires. Some fires could be seen from space.

33% of Ukrainian forests are now damaged.
Besides, the Russians occupied and damaged 8 reserves and 12 national parks


On the coast below Odessa, every year conservationists were digging small canals to allow fish to enter the Tuzly Lagoons. This year, no canal can be dug because the area is filled with landmines. It will have an impact, not only on the fish reproduction but also on the whole ecosystem of the lagoons, right down to the herons feeding off these fish.

In addition to the mines, being a threat to all life, more than 200 bombs landed in the area. These bombs leave long-term pollution in the area.


You might remember the Snake Island for the brave Ukrainian soldiers’ answer, “Russian Warship, go fuck yourself”. It was actually a national reserve, hosting significant wildlife diversityThat’s before it was bombed, occupied, and bombed again, with phosphorus bombs.

Marine life is suffering from marine mines and sunk warships.

Dead dolphins are also victims of the conflict.


A last example from 2014, Russian troops landed in a national park and destroyed the biggest European nesting area of endangered species.


Bonus : a website recording the environmental impact and risks in Ukraine.


War IS destruction of life

While Russia is unarguably ravaging wildlife and nature, we have to put this into perspective.


We could argue that the first mass destruction happened during WWII. A first striking example would be Dresden’s firestorms
The city was shelled for two days with 3 900 tons of bombs and incendiary devices. A huge fire followed and burned 6.5km² of the city centre.

Because of the intensity of the fire, people sheltered underground died of asphyxia.
The fire consumed all the available oxygen in the area, 25 000 civilians died.

90% of the city centre was destroyed in two days.


Then there’s the use of nuclear weapons against Japan.
Hiroshima, on the 6th of August.
Nagasaki, on the 9th of August.

Two bombs killed between 129 000 and 226 000 civilians.


Hiroshima’s bomb and the resulting fire destroyed 12km² of the city.

  • 30% of the city’s population was killed.
  • Another 30% of the population was injured.
  • 70% of the city was destroyed.


Nagasaki’s bomb hit a valley, which protected the city. 3.2km² of the city was destroyed, with between 22 000 and 75 000 dead civilians.


Vietnam war

We could not talk about the destruction of nature during war without mentioning the Vietnam war (1955-1975).

At the time, nature and the environment did not enjoy the same status as today. The US was massively spreading herbicide and napalm on forests. The goal was to destroy forests and crops to prevent them from hiding or eating. 


A few numbers:

  • 80 million litres of defoliant, including 45 million litres of “Agent Orange” were sprayed.
  • 4 million Vietnamese were exposed to the defoliant and one million were disabled or had health problems as a result.
  • 3,100,000 hectares of forest were destroyed.
  • About 18% of all the country’s forests have been targeted.
  • 50% of the country’s mangroves were destroyed.


Along with defoliants, napalm was used, also called “liquid fire”. 388 000 tons of napalm were used during the Vietnam war.
Each bomb generates up to 1 200°c and would impact  up to 2 000m².
The most famous photograph of the Vietnam war is of a girl fleeing from a napalm strike.



There would be so much to be added regarding these conflicts and wars, but our angle was the destruction of life and nature throughout wars.
These few examples were selected, because they are widely known and a lot of documentation is already available. However, each war has its toll on nature.

When the survival of a country is at stake, no means or costs seem too high.



Below, an aerial image of mangroves. You can see the consequences of defoliants.

The second image is of a ship deploying napalm in Vietnam.
The third image is of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, fleeing from a Napalm strike. The photo is called “The Terror of War”.

Vietnam war

Boat Napalm

Phan Thi Kim Phuc