Climate Insecurity


In 2007, in the dying days of the Bush administration, generals in the Pentagon had already identified climate change as a major security risk. They didn’t talk much about it – climate change wasn’t exactly a popular topic with POTUS at that time. Times have changed.

All over the world, military planners and defense strategists not only accept that climate change is happening (and many acknowledge it is manmade as well) but are factoring it into their security and defense considerations. While the evidence that climate change has directly led to conflict remains slim – though not non-existent – the military considers it a major factor in exacerbating and multiplying risk levels, as well as actual conflicts.

Clearly, as climate change causes disruptions to weather patterns – increasing both droughts and floods, depending on where you live – people will seek to move to someplace more stable. At least, they will while such places continue to exist.

Low-lying island nations and places like Bangladesh will be the first to be hit as rising sea levels – brought on by melting ice and the expansion of water as temperatures rise –wash away their land, leaving them no choice but to sail away to someplace with higher ground. Sea level rises will hit the developed world, but those economies are better able to cope with lost coastline – at least for a while.

The tropics will be the next to fall into crisis as higher temperatures reduce the ability of Africa and South America to produce food – perhaps by as much as 25%. When people are hungry and afraid, they have little choice but to move. If the West thinks a few million refugees moving away from war zones is hard to handle, wait until they face  a few hundred million climate fugitives.

The military isn’t merely planning for climate change; they are trying to do something to mitigate it. Many European nations have adopted green defense strategies, trying to find ways to reduce energy consumption in notoriously gas guzzling operations. What they can do is limited in a world where high performance is a necessity to meet combat responsibilities but nonetheless, they are greening their buildings and bases, finding fuel efficiency where they can and integrating alternative energy into their operations. In France they are even turning training grounds into ecological preserves.

In Gabon they are going one step farther and using the army to plant heat hardy trees to replace those being damaged by changing weather (and lousy industrial practices). One might envision the day when those same forces will go after those who caused the devastation in the first place. Indonesia might be a good place to start.

This is all well and good but the military can’t get at the root of the problem, only their host states and the politicians that run them can do that. Scientists already say we are looking at a 2.7C temperature rise by the end of the century – when 2C is where we lose control. The upcoming meeting in Paris is unlikely to stop that from going even higher but they need to at least get a start on it – before the real climate wars start.

And that’s ten minutes.


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