Neta Crawford giving a lecture at the podium.
Neta Crawford, winner of the 2024 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order speaks at UofL on April 11, 2024. UofL photo.

What began as a simple search for data to support a presentation on climate change turned into an extensive project and a book calling for a shift in grand strategy by the U.S. military to reduce carbon emissions.

In her on-campus lecture April 11, Neta Crawford, winner of the 2024 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, described how in 2018, she began searching for data on the carbon emissions produced by the U.S. military. When she found the data was not readily available, she began calculating it herself. She found that the U.S. military was responsible for 81 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year–more than the total emissions for many entire countries.

Following that work and a related scientific paper, Crawford contributed language to a requirement by Congress that the U.S. military report some segments of its emissions beginning in 2021. In 2022, her book, “The Pentagon, Climate Change and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of Military Emissions,” was published by MIT Press.

In her writings, Crawford traced how the United States and other military powers became dependent on large amounts of fossil fuel, from the quest for coal stations around the world in the 19th Century to thousands of U.S. troops defending oil supplies in the Middle East today. She concluded that the legacy mentality requiring vast military presence and activity can and should change in order to reduce military emissions.

“I described how we got here, but the world doesn’t have to be that way. We could decrease the tens of thousands of forces in the Middle East, and then decrease their emissions which will help with climate change and potentially decrease tension.”

Citing reductions in U.S. oil imports from OPEC, Crawford said the need for the oil is lower, so military efforts to protect it also should be reduced.

“The U.S. is poised to defend oil that we cannot and should not burn. So, we are defending access to oil which we decreasingly need,” she said.

Crawford commended emission reduction programs in the military but called for bigger changes.

“The military has very good people looking at incremental ways to reduce their emissions. I’m talking about a much larger restructuring, though, and that’s not happening,” Crawford said.

“What I am arguing in the book is, first of all, count the emissions. Secondly, they don’t have to be as high. The military has shown, in fact, that they can decrease their emissions. They are not doing it very ambitiously, and they can. And this matters.”

The $100,000 Grawemeyer prizes also honor seminal ideas in music composition, educationpsychology and religion. Winners visit Louisville to accept their awards and give free talks on their winning ideas.

View photos from Crawford’s lecture on UofL’s Flickr albums