The Pentagon wants to Surrender to Climate Change, not Fight It

By Eric Bonds via Foreign Policy in Focus

The Pentagon recently released a new report sounding the alarm on the national security threats posed by climate change. Like previous reports on the subject, this one makes clear that Department of Defense (DoD) planners believe that global warming will seriously challenge our nation’s military forces.

The report finds that, “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Such outcomes will mean, according to the report, that U.S. troops will be increasingly deployed overseas. The report also warns that many U.S. naval bases are vulnerable to flooding from sea-level rise and from more frequent and increasingly severe tropical storms.

At a time when climate denialism still exerts an influence over U.S. politics, it’s important that the DoD is raising awareness that global warming is real and is profoundly consequential. The Obama administration also seems to have timed the release of this report, which does not itself include much new information, to build broader domestic support for a new global climate treaty.

Nonetheless, the recent report also shows just how limited the Pentagon’s thinking is about the subject, and how militarism itself poses its own roadblocks to creating a more sustainable society that can exist within the bounds of our climate system.

The Missing Piece

The clear consensus among climate scientists is that accelerating global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is the only way we can limit the severity of climate change. Yet amid all of its grave warnings about projected climate impacts on national security, the new DoD report leaves this point untouched. On the contrary, the Pentagon seems instead to be planning for, rather than working to avoid, a warming and more dangerous world.

The report, for instance, describes how the DoD is “beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years” at the Norfolk naval base. It also states that the DoD is “considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defense planning scenarios,” and that plans are being made to deal with diminishing Arctic sea ice, which will create new shipping lanes and open up new areas for resource extraction.

The Pentagon’s efforts to promote climate adaptation are understandable in the sense that some warming has been “locked in” to our atmosphere, and that no matter what we do now we will be feeling the impacts of climate change. But it’s also true that reports like this miss the larger point: the extent of global warming and the severity of its consequences has everything to do with whether or not we act now to aggressively cut emissions. But these cuts just aren’t possible right now without a massive public investment to create a low-carbon economy.

Think Big, Think Green

Although it might go by many different names—a Big Green Buy, a New Green Deal, or a Marshall Plan for the Environment—a serious plan to address global warming would require serious investments into creating more light rails, bullet trains, and bus systems while reorienting our communities to bicycles and walking. We will need to increase the energy efficiency of our homes and fund the creation of new power systems that do not rely on fossil fuels.

In her new book, Naomi Klein provides a number of possible sources of finance for these public investments—including the elimination of subsidies to fossil fuel companies, a carbon tax, small taxes on financial transactions, or a billionaire’s tax. Additionally, she argues that if the world’s ten biggest military spenders cut 25% of their defense budgets, it would free up an additional $325 billion to spend on green infrastructure every year.

Similarly, when Miriam Pemberton and Ellen Powell compared climate spending to military spending in the United States, they found that the nation puts only a tiny fraction of money—4% in comparison to the total DoD budget—into efforts that would cut carbon emissions. Just by eliminating unneeded and dangerous weapons systems, the U.S. government would have significant new sources of funding for green projects. For example, the U.S. government could change its plans to purchase four more littoral combat ships—which the DoD itself doesn’t want—in order to double the Department of Energy’s funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts. Likewise, our government could continue paying for 11 aircraft carrier groups to patrol the globe until 2050, or it could retire two groups and put the savings into solar panels on 33 million American homes.

No Roadmap

This sort of spending—and much more—is what will be required to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions. But the U.S. government currently has no such plans. When pressed, officials typically mention a lack of funding and the importance of “fiscal restraint” to explain why this need goes unmet. Meanwhile our resources continue to be invested in militarism rather than sustainability.

The Pentagon’s new climate change report, then, demonstrates just how severely limiting it is to speak of global warming as a “national security threat,” rather than thinking about it as a planetary emergency or in terms of environmental and intergenerational justice. Looking at climate change through a militarized lens of “national security” can only diminish our collective political imagination at the very time when we need all the innovation we can muster to meet one of the defining challenges of our time.

Eric Bonds is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, VA. He teaches and studies topics related to militarism, human rights, and the environment.

Mirrored from Foreign Policy in Focus

Content under a Creative Commons Attribution licence


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit: “Hagel: Climate Change Will Challenge US Military”

5 Responses

  1. At the end of March, economist Elizabeth Kopits of the EPA gave a talk at Harvard Kennedy School on how they are computing the social costs of carbon for the new carbon regulations on power plants. She showed one slide which included all the departments of government with which they consulted. Missing was the Department of Defense. I asked her about this and she replied that it wasn’t because they were excluding the DoD. They just hadn’t asked them even though the DoD has been running scenaria around climate change effects for years now and been vocal about the security dangers just as long.

    I’m hoping that my question may have stirred some interest in coordination with the DoD in the EPA but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  2. Here’s the report? link to There’s an earlier, more compendious tome from DoD here, link to For those that are interested in policy details, away you go!

    Interesting, that fella Hagel presenting himself in front of a screen touting the “First Plenary Session — United States’ Contribution To International Stability.” Ironic, sardonic, hypocritical, sarcastic, even, maybe: link to, and link to Considering the reality behind that screen.

    How’s it go. again? If a person’s income and next comfy exalted position depend on his not understanding (or pretending not to understand) something, well gee, what a surprise at the result.

    The slightly older people who get their “advancement” and huge wealth from doing more of the same, more petrocolonialism, more militarization, more weapons in circulation, more destabilization, more corporate rule and the enserfment and reduction to rent payers of the rest of us, they know just what they are doing. They’re immune to the sh_t that will fly off the fans that they and their predecessors have been spinning up for the last many decades — safe in the cocoons they have spun for themselves, which are pretty impenetrable, and very comfortable.

    They get their egos massaged, their senses pleased, their whims attended to; they have “people” to see to their security (personal, family, financial) and their health, their needs and wants. Like our “Wall Streeters,” they are consequence-free, with the worst they face being a little occasional public embarrassment, link to until they “get their lives back,” link to They rule the future of the species, a future of horrors from which a protected comfortable life and gentle death will spare them. Petraeus or Hagel or Dimon or Tony Hayward, or even Barack Obama, e.g., you think they give a sh_t what happens to the rest of us? They get to be big shots in the planetary casino, with chestfuls of medals and walls plastered with “awards,” without having to pony up anything but the wealth and lives that get laid down on the gaming table — the lives and loves and wealth and futures of the rest of us, extracted and played with as if they “earned it.” For some set of reasons, most of 7 billion of us have let it all be about power and money. Maybe we think we know something.

    Good luck, folks…

  3. The Pentagon’s “surrender” is a best case scenario in the ongoing climate change narrative.


    Then try a simple logic experiment and consider the consequences of a proactive military presence in ‘global climate mitigation’.

  4. Maybe the military is the only part of the oligarchy that can honestly profit from what all the parts secretly knew years ago. The rest, being capitalists, must find ways to profit from it without conceding that capitalism created the problem.

    Therefore, you should start checking what wealthy climate deniers, as opposed to their sycophantic mobs, are doing behind the scenes to ensure that they will rule the survivors in the manner of an episode of Game of Thrones.

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