Could the Pentagon Be a Climate Change Leader?
By Tara Lohan
Three years into the Trump administration, its anti-climate and anti-science agenda is well established. Despite dire warnings from the world's leading scientists about the threats from rising greenhouse gas emissions, the administration has stubbornly continued to deny climate change, obstructed and undermined efforts to curb it, and moved again and again to roll back existing regulations that help reduce emissions.
Under Trump there's only one government agency whose top officials continue to take the threat of climate change seriously, albeit out of the public spotlight: the Department of Defense.
As international threat expert Michael T. Klare recounts in his new book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change, U.S. military leaders view climate change as a threat to the country's security — as well as global stability. Klare explores what they're doing about it, mostly behind the scenes.
With long experience studying national security issues, Klare is currently director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. He's written extensively about the military and global resources, including The Race for What's Left and Blood and Oil.
"While discussion of climate change has indeed largely disappeared from the Pentagon's public statements, its internal efforts to address the effects of global warming have not stopped," Klare writes.
Klare begins by tracing the evolution of the Pentagon's understanding of the potential dangers of climate change, which goes back more than a decade. The Department of Defense has published numerous reports and briefs since and is currently conducting an assessment of the climate-related threats to the hundreds of U.S. military bases at home and abroad. While the study isn't complete, results so far have shown that half of all bases face at least one climate-related threat. Many face several.
What Pentagon analysts are most concerned about is not endangered species, like some other government agencies, but other humans.
"They see climate change as ratcheting up global chaos, which in turn means a greater likelihood of U.S involvement in ugly foreign wars," writes Klare.
In some places climate-related disasters such as droughts, heat waves and hurricanes may trigger mass migrations and failed states; in others climate change may not be the sole threat or even the greatest, but it could make a bad situation catastrophic. It's considered a "threat multiplier" — one that, in the age of globalization, can lead to far-reaching failures of energy, food and health systems.
"Try to picture a food-price crisis occurring at more or less the same time as a major pandemic and a mass migration event: the resulting chaos, distress and contention are almost unimaginable," he writes.
As climate change worsens, the U.S. military will face more humanitarian crises. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 and the quick succession of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 gave a preview of what's to come — and the extensive resources needed.
Climate-related threats to food and water can also trigger what Klare calls "failed-state syndrome," like in Mali where resource scarcity, social unrest and natural disaster helped create political upheaval. Countries like Nigeria and Saudi Arabia could face similar threats.
There's also the potential for clashes among the world's heavyweights. A melting Arctic will open up access to shipping, drilling and other kinds of economic exploitation, which could prompt conflict between Arctic neighbors like the United States, Russia, Norway and Canada. Not coincidentally, the United States recently restocked its Cold War stash of military equipment and weapons housed in caves in Norway, presumably in the case of conflict with Russia, writes Klare.
And across the world, China could go head-to-head with India over vital flows in the Brahmaputra and other rivers as melting Himalayan glaciers curtail water resources. A similar situation over water conflict could emerge between India and Pakistan, too, writes Klare.
And then there are the threats emerging at home. The military is already dealing with rising seas, increased inland flooding, and more severe hurricanes and wildfires. These aren't small problems: The Department of Defense mobilized more than 30,000 personnel in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Klare's review of both foreign and domestic threats from climate change is exhaustive and alarming, especially on top of what we already know about how climate change threatens vital ecosystems and species across the globe.
He makes a convincing case that there's ample reason for military leaders to be concerned — not to mention the rest of us: "It follows that if the armed services are worried about the safety and survival of their vital systems, we should be equally worried about our own."
Of course, many of us already are worried, which is why the last part of the book — what the Pentagon is actually doing about all of this — is so important… and also a bit disappointing. Klare reveals that many of the military's efforts to "go green" — for example, by using fewer fossil fuels — have been less about environmental concerns than strategy. Convoys to carry gasoline to remote military outposts are vulnerable to attack; using solar or other technologies to power barracks or vehicles reduces that risk.
And some programs were, well, less than they first appeared. For example, in 2006 the USS Stockdale set off as a part of the "Great Green Fleet," so named because the boat was using some "alternative fuels" to reduce its dependence on oil. But Klare reveals that the boat was actually running on a mix of 90% oil and 10% liquefied beef fat. It's hard to imagine that's either a green or scalable replacement for the petroleum used to power a destroyer across an ocean.
Other efforts have yielded better results, though. Today the different service branches use more solar and other renewables. And efforts are underway to vastly increase fuel efficiency of planes and ground vehicles.
And along the way they've achieved some measurable results: From 2011 to 2016, the DoD's consumption of petroleum for operating forces declined 20%. The energy supplied by renewables at home has also climbed 12% over 2003 levels.
Klare lists a few other statistics, but it's hard to put all of it into context as the book fails to mention the overall climate footprint of the U.S. military — which other sources point out is more than in most other countries. There's also no mention of the sweeping environmental, social and related implications of U.S. imperialism, a significant omission.
Indeed the idea of the U.S. military being a big green savior is a tough pill to swallow. Sen. Elizabeth Warren found that out earlier this year, when she introduced the Department of Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act, which seeks to ramp up the military's potential when it comes to renewables and energy efficiency.
She received some swift backlash from progressives, including author and activist Naomi Klein who tweeted that, "The most powerful war machine on the planet is never going to be 'green.'"
Still, Klare claims that "given the immense size of the U.S. military establishment and its proven ability to embrace technological innovation, the Department of Defense is one of the few institutions in American society with the capacity to make a real difference in slowing the pace of warming."
But will that be enough? If climate change worsens the threats the military has identified, and makes military action more likely, the chances of reducing our armed forces' carbon footprint will get even slimmer. As Klare's own reporting shows, the vast, worldwide social and political upheaval that we'll likely experience due to climate change means we badly need civilian, as well as military, arms of government to get on board.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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