The Secret Elephant in the Paris Climate Accord Room

There’s an elephant in the room. It’s a war elephant. We can see him but they can’t.

The Paris Climate Accord Was Born Crippled

After decades of quibbling, the vast majority of the countries of the world finally acknowledged the seriousness of global warming and sat down in Paris on December 12, 2015, to sign a legally binding climate accord, the Paris Agreement. Not only did they sign it but the majority took it home and got it ratified by their governments. The agreement entered into effect on November 4, 2016.

Everybody agreed it was a significant advance for humankind. People toasted with champagne. But the celebrations were premature, as the United States had included a pre-existing condition–a threat, if you will–in the agreement, and they swore their colleagues to secrecy. They advised the delegates gathered together in Paris that they would not sign the document unless the air pollution generated by their military forces around the world was exempted from the tabulation of the American carbon footprint.

The sensible delegates of the rest of the world acceded, acutely aware that the American military forces not only generate air pollution, but they could also create death and destruction on a massive scale. Just how much pollution were they looking at, anyway? As it turned out the US armed forces are the world’s single greatest polluter, to the tune of more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide, created by burning fossile fuels at a rate of 269,230 barrels a day, according to

In a revealing article originally published by the International Action Center in 2014, Sara Flounders wrote : 

There is an elephant in the climate debate that by US demand cannot be discussed or even seen. This agreement to ignore the elephant is now the accepted basis of all international negotiations on climate change.

It is well understood by every possible measurement that the Pentagon, the US military machine, is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products and the world’s worst polluter of greenhouse gas emissions and many other toxic pollutants. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements. is a British research and database organization headed by the Universities of Lancaster and Durham. They have applied their minds and resources to following the petroleum–which, when burned, turns into air pollution. They uncovered a little known but massively important agency tucked into a corner of the US Defense Department. It’s the US Defense Logistics Agency – Energy (DLA‐E) and it’s the primary purchase point for hydrocarbon‐based fuels for the US military, as well as a powerful actor in the global oil market.

The Researech Gate investigaters followed the DLA‐E’s oil trail, its supply chain, bureaucratic practices, and the infrastructure that facilitates the US military’s consumption of hydro‐based carbons on a global scale. Using Freedom of Information Act requests they were able to trace much of the US military’s oil use and consequent generation of pollution. They concluded that the US military is a “major climate actor,” if not THE major climate actor. (Source:

The Single Largest User of Petroleum in the World

The results of an extensive 2019 study by affirm that:

… the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

The Washington D.C.-based Transnational Institute has been active for more than 30 years documenting social movements around the world, and fighting for economic, social and environmental justice. According to these American researchers there is one word conspicuously missing from the draft of the Paris Agreement: “military.” They think that’s strange, insofar as “the US military alone is the single largest user of petroleum in the world and has been the main enforcer of the global oil economy for decades.”

Since the US military is such a major player, obscuring their role in the game makes a mockery of the whole accord. As it turned out, the Americans had a second card to play, President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement a scarce seven months after its ratification. Though Trump announced the move in June 2017, UN regulations delayed the execution of his decision until November 4, 2020. It remains to be seen what new President Joe Biden will do with this warm potato with the world’s largest carbon polluter hidden inside.

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