A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters

A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters A soldier stands guard at the damaged entrance to Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, Oct. 11, 2018, after Hurricane Michael. AP Photo/David Goldman

As experts warn that the world is running out of time to head off severe climate change, discussions of what the U.S. should do about it are split into opposing camps. The scientific-environmental perspective says global warming will cause the planet severe harm without action to slow fossil fuel burning. Those who reject mainstream climate science insist either that warming is not occurring or that it’s not clear human actions are driving it.

With these two extremes polarizing the American political arena, climate policy has come to a near standstill. But as I argue in my new book,“All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change,” the U.S. armed forces offer a third perspective that could help bridge the gap.

I’ve studied military and security issues for decades. Although President Trump has called climate change a hoax and worked to reverse the Obama administration’s climate initiatives, senior U.S. military officers have long been aware of warming’s detrimental effects.

Military leaders believe climate change seriously threatens U.S. national security. They contend it is stirring up chaos and conflict abroad, endangering coastal bases and stressing soldiers and equipment, which undermines military readiness. But rather than debating the causes of climate change or assigning blame, they focus on how warming undermines security, and on practical steps to slow its advance and minimize damage.

A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters Marines board the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid to Haiti following Hurricane Matthew, Oct. 8, 2016. U.S. Navy/ Petty Officer 2nd Class Hunter S. Harwell, CC BY

The Pentagon knows about climate impacts

Senior Pentagon officials are familiar with the scientific literature on climate change and know about its expected impacts. Many also have served in climate-ravaged areas of the world, including North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands.

People in those regions have experienced prolonged and crippling droughts, severe heat waves and catastrophic storms. In many cases, these developments have been accompanied by humanitarian disasters, resource disputes, and armed conflicts – phenomena that impinge directly on the overseas operations of U.S. forces.

“Changing weather patterns, rising temperatures, and dramatic shifts in rainfall contribute to drought, famine, migration, and resource competition” in Africa, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, then commander of the U.S. Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2019. “As each group seeks land for its own purposes, violent conflict can ensue.”

A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters FBI Director Christopher Wray; CIA Director Gina Haspel; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and Defense Intelligence Agency director Gen. Robert Ashley testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on worldwide threats, including climate change, Jan. 29, 2019. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Bases and troops at risk

Military leaders are also contending with climate change impacts on bases, forces and equipment. Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018 and heavy inland flooding in the spring of 2019 caused an estimated US$10 billion in damage to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Scientists widely agree that climate change is making storms like these larger, more intense and longer-lasting.

Threats to other bases – particularly those located along U.S. coastlines, such as the giant naval station at Norfolk, Virginia – are bound to grow as sea levels rise and major storms occur more frequently.

Rising temperatures generate other challenges. In Alaska, many facilities are at risk of collapse or damage as the permafrost on which they sit begins to thaw. In California, wildfires burn on or near key bases. Extreme heat also poses a health risk to soldiers, who must often carry heavy loads during sunlit hours, and to the safe operation of helicopters and other mechanical equipment.

NBC News reports in March 2019 on extensive damage to Camp Lejeune, six months after Hurricane Florence.

“Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources,” the Defense Department told Congress in a 2015 report. “These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

Practical steps to adapt

Recognizing these dangers, the armed forces are acting to reduce its vulnerability. They have built seawalls at Langley Air Force Base, adjacent to Norfolk Naval Station, and are relocating sensitive electronic equipment at coastal bases from ground level to upper stories or higher elevations.

The Defense Department also is investing in renewable energy, including solar power and biofuels. By the end of 2020, the armed forces expect to generate 18% of on-base electricity from renewables, up from 9.6% in 2010. They plan to increase that share substantially in the years ahead.

Military planning for climate change does not dwell on threats to habitats and species. It emphasizes the social strife, state collapse and armed violence that are likely to occur in countries already suffering from scarce resources and ethnic friction.

As this outlook suggests, human communities face far greater risks from climate change in the short term than scientists’ habitat loss projections into 2100 and beyond may suggest. Vulnerable societies are crumbling under the pressure of extreme climate effects, and the scale of chaos and conflict is certain to grow as global temperatures rise.

The armed forces as climate mediators

The military’s approach to climate change could bridge the divide between believers and doubters. People who assert that protecting endangered habitats and species is trivial next to health and economic problems, and that society has time to tackle whatever threats may develop, might be persuaded to take action when they hear from respected generals and admirals that the nation’s security is at stake.

This is already happening in some communities, such as Norfolk, Virginia, where base commanders and local officials have found common ground in addressing the area’s extreme vulnerability to sea level rise and hurricane-induced flooding.

Similarly, congressional Republicans – many of whom have long opposed addressing climate change – are starting to issue plans to curb it. Framing climate policy in national security terms might help win conservative support.

The armed forces continue to plan for conventional conflicts abroad, while recognizing that climate change will affect their ability to perform their combat duties. They must, like it or not, take steps to overcome warming’s damaging impacts. In my view, it’s a message all Americans need to heed.

About The Author

Michael Klare, Professor Emeritus and Director, Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies, Hampshire College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

God Intended It As A Disposable Planet: Meet The Us Pastor Preaching Climate Change Denial
God Intended It As A Disposable Planet: Meet The Us Pastor Preaching Climate Change Denial
by Paul Braterman
Every so often you come across a piece of writing so extraordinary that you cannot help but share it. One such piece is…
Climate Heat Melts Arctic Snows And Dries Forests
What Lies Ahead For The Youth Climate Movement
by David Tindall
Students around the world returned to the streets in late September for a global day of climate action for the first…
Methane Ruling Seen as Ominous Sign With Barrett Poised to Join Supreme Court
Methane Ruling Seen as Ominous Sign With Barrett Poised to Join Supreme Court
by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
The judge delivered a "puzzling and unsupported conclusion that the Bureau of Land Management can't limit methane waste…
How Much Do People Care About Climate Change? We Surveyed 80,000 People In 40 Countries To Find Out
How Much Do People Care About Climate Change? We Surveyed 80,000 People In 40 Countries To Find Out
by Simge Andı and James Painter
New survey results from 40 countries shows that climate change matters to most people. In the vast majority of…
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-world Radicalism
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-World Radicalism
by Calvert Jones and Celia Paris
Humans are storytelling creatures: the stories we tell have profound implications for how we see our role in the world,…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
by Tim Radford
Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often.

LATEST VIDEOS

Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
by Anthony C. Didlake Jr
As Hurricane Sally headed for the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, forecasters warned of a…
Ocean Warming Threatens Coral Reefs and Soon Could Make It Harder To Restore Them
Ocean Warming Threatens Coral Reefs and Soon Could Make It Harder To Restore Them
by Shawna Foo
Anyone who’s tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an…
Sunspots Do Affect Our Weather But Not As Much As Other Things
Sunspots Do Affect Our Weather But Not As Much As Other Things
by Robert McLachlan
Are we headed for a period with lower Solar activity, i.e. sunspots? How long will it last? What happens to our world…
Dirty Tricks Climate Scientists Faced In Three Decades Since First IPCC Report
Dirty Tricks Climate Scientists Faced In Three Decades Since First IPCC Report
by Marc Hudson
Thirty years ago, in a small Swedish city called Sundsvall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)…
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.

LATEST ARTICLES

God Intended It As A Disposable Planet: Meet The Us Pastor Preaching Climate Change Denial
God Intended It As A Disposable Planet: Meet The Us Pastor Preaching Climate Change Denial
by Paul Braterman
Every so often you come across a piece of writing so extraordinary that you cannot help but share it. One such piece is…
Drought And Heat Together Menace American West
Drought And Heat Together Menace American West
by Tim Radford
Climate change really is a burning issue. Simultaneous drought and heat are increasingly likely for more of the…
China Just Stunned The World With Its Step-up On Climate Action
China Just Stunned The World With Its Step-up On Climate Action
by Hao Tan
China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by…
How Do Climate Change, Migration And A Deadly Disease In Sheep Alter Our Understanding Of Pandemics?
How Do Climate Change, Migration And A Deadly Disease In Sheep Alter Our Understanding Of Pandemics?
by Super User
A new framework for pathogen evolution exposes a world much more vulnerable to disease outbreaks than we previously…
Climate Heat Melts Arctic Snows And Dries Forests
What Lies Ahead For The Youth Climate Movement
by David Tindall
Students around the world returned to the streets in late September for a global day of climate action for the first…
Historic Amazon Rainforest Fires Threaten Climate And Raise Risk Of New Diseases
Historic Amazon Rainforest Fires Threaten Climate And Raise Risk Of New Diseases
by Kerry William Bowman
The fires in the Amazon region in 2019 were unprecedented in their destruction. Thousands of fires had burned more than…
Climate heat melts Arctic snows and dries forests
Climate Heat Melts Arctic Snows And Dries Forests
by Tim Radford
Fires now blaze under Arctic snows, where once even the wettest rainforests burned. Climate change delivers unlikely…
Marine Heat Waves Are Becoming More Common And Intense
Marine Heat Waves Are Becoming More Common And Intense
by Jen Monnier, Enisa
Improved “weather forecasts” for oceans hold hope for reducing devastation to fisheries and ecosystems around the world