The Board of Lockheed Martin Has Spoken: Climate Change May Proceed

Lockheed Martin is the largest military contractor with the Department of Defense, the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels. Lockheed was recently asked point-blank if it will address its role in worsening climate change. Its answer: no.

A US F-35 fighter jet is pictured during an event of the US Air Force at the Danish Airbase Fighter Wing Skrydstrup in Jutland, Denmark, on March 10, 2023. (Bo Amstrup / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP via Getty Images)

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest military contractor, will have its shareholder meeting on April 27. There, shareholders are slated to vote on a resolution to require a company report “disclosing how the Company intends to reduce its full value chain greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C degree goal requiring Net Zero emissions by 2050.” The board at Lockheed advised all their shareholders to vote against this resolution, making it clear that in addition to promoting conflict and violence around the world, Lockheed Martin is also uninterested in scaling back its significant contribution to climate change.

In the board’s reasoning, shareholders should vote no on the resolution because it is “premature and not in the best interest of our Company or our stockholders.” To suggest that acting on the unfolding climate catastrophe is “premature” speaks volumes about the lack of urgency Lockheed executives see around the climate crisis. According to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the threshold for critical changes in the climate will likely happen within this decade. The report emphasizes that we must make an immediate shift away from fossil fuels to prevent climate collapse. The idea that any action on climate change is premature is a blatant falsehood at worst or willfully ignorant at best.

As we face the stark reality of looming climate disaster, the board’s statement is a candid admission of Lockheed executives’ values. From this, one can truly determine that they value profit over everything else — in case that weren’t clear from, say, the slaughter of forty Yemeni schoolchildren with a Lockheed Martin–manufactured bomb, or countless other horrific acts of violence routinely committed with the company’s profitable products.

Lockheed Martin plays a real role in the climate crisis. The company is the largest contractor with the US Department of Defense, which is in turn is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Between 2001 and 2017, the years for which data is available since the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gasses. More than 400 million metric tons are directly due to war-related fuel consumption. The largest portion of this is for military jets. When it comes to military jets, there is one that brings this level of climate emission to dizzying new heights of risk, and that is the F-35 fighter jet program.

Lockheed Martin’s cash cow, the F-35 fighter jet costs the US taxpayer $1.7 trillion. The F-35 uses a significant amount of fuel — about 2.37 gallons of fuel for every mile and around 1,340 gallons of fuel per hour. (By comparison, the F-35’s predecessor, the F-16, uses at least 415 gallons per hour less.) One F-35 tank of gas produces the equivalent of twenty-eight metric tons of carbon dioxide. These emissions heavily pollute air and water sources in locations in the United States and abroad. Most often, thanks to base locations, this disproportionately adversely affects low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities.

F-35 training flights in Burlington, Vermont, burn between 4.7 and 9.4 million gallons of jet fuel per year. They emit 100 to 200 million pounds of CO2 yearly. To put it in perspective, that would be the equivalent of South Burlington adding ten to twenty thousand more passenger cars to its small population. Lockheed, then, is no minor participant in the process of climate change.

In addition to being a mega-polluter, the F-35 project is an unfathomably expensive boondoggle that continues to drain public resources. But Lockheed Martin executives don’t see it that way. When they look at the F-35, they see a profit-making machine. They sell these jets not only to the US Air Force, Navy, and Marines, but to thirteen other countries around the world. (That means you can add in the environmental pollution and climate emissions of those thirteen buyers to the US figures above.)

Even if Lockheed Martin were environmentally friendly, it would still be accountable for a variety of offenses, chief among them flooding the world with weapons. That said, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is necessary as we stare down the barrel of climate disaster. Shareholders breaking with the board and voting yes would be a good start. Given the enormity of the crisis we face, anything less would be criminal.