World’s Militaries Increase Carbon Emissions: Study

WASHINGTON, DC—The world is on course to pass a dangerous temperature threshold within the next ten years, according to a recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To avert pushing the planet past the point of catastrophic warming, the IPCC recommends that nations drastically transform their economies and immediately transition away from fossil fuels.

Previous sociological research has consistently shown that greater economic growth results in greater carbon emissions. However, although the world’s militaries are complex social institutions that exert a sizable influence on the production and consumption patterns of nations, previous work has largely overlooked the role of militaries and the emergence of the war economy and defense industry as economic engines contributing to carbon emissions.

In their new study, “‘Guns versus Climate: How Militarization Amplifies the Effect of Economic Growth on Carbon Emissions,” appearing in the June 2023 issue of the American Sociological Review, authors Andrew K. Jorgenson, University of British Columbia; Brett Clark, University of Utah; Ryan P. Thombs, Boston College; Jeffrey Kentor, Wayne State University; Jennifer E. Givens, Utah State University; Xiaorui Huang, Drexel University; Hassan El Tinay, Boston College; Daniel Auerbach, University of Wyoming; and Matthew C. Mahutga, University of California-Riverside, delve into the question of how national military systems impact carbon emissions.

The authors posited that both the size and capital intensiveness of the world’s militaries, being far-reaching and distinct characteristics of contemporary militarization, enlarge the effect of economic growth on nations’ carbon emissions. In particular, they theorized that “each increases the extent to which the other amplifies the effect of economic growth on carbon pollution.”

The authors estimated longitudinal models of emissions for 106 nations from 1990 to 2016, with a particular focus on the three-way interaction between economic growth, military expenditures per soldier, and military participation rate. This three-way interaction allowed the authors to quantify the effect of economic growth on emissions at different levels of military expenditures per soldier and military participation rate simultaneously. Across various model specifications, robustness checks, and a range of sensitivity analyses, the authors’ found that economic growth increases carbon emissions more in countries with high militarization.

The authors found that both military expenditures per soldier and military participation enlarge the impact of economic growth on national carbon emissions. Through their modeling of the three-way interaction, the authors determined that the “effect of GDP per capita on emissions is larger at higher levels of expenditures per solider, and this increases across the distribution of military participation rate. Likewise, the effect of GDP per capita on carbon pollution is larger at higher levels of military participation rate, and this increases across the distribution of military expenditures per solider.”

In the most recent year covered by their data, the authors’ findings suggest that average per capita carbon emissions would be twenty-five percent lower than observed if all countries had the same levels of militarization as countries at the tenth percentile of militarization.

The findings for their analysis speak to the deep connections between the military and the economy at the core of the military-industrial complex. The study’s authors hope that their work underscores the importance of considering the role of the military when addressing the societal causes of the climate crisis. More broadly, the authors suggest that their study highlights the important contributions that sociologists can make to interdisciplinary research on climate change, as well as to the formation of holistic and evidence-based climate mitigation policies.

For more information and for a copy of the study, contact [email protected].


About the American Sociological Association and the American Sociological Review

The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a nonprofit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The American Sociological Review is ASA’s flagship journal.

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