The US military believes in climate change. It believes the issue requires urgent, comprehensive action, and it has believed that since the ‘90s. This has put it at considerable odds with the political party that has, in all other matters (excepting veteran care), strongly supported US defense in its myriad applications.
Climate Change and the Republican Majority
You may already be aware that not every politician in Washington, D.C., believes climate change is a problem – or, if it is, that it’s caused by humans. This is in contrast to the scientific community, which is almost unanimous in its support of an anthropogenic (man-made) climate model. Just over 97 percent of scientists say climate change is happening and it’s primarily due to industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. What’s more, the two percent of studies that dispute this model have recently been re-examined and found to contain serious methodological flaws.
Despite this fact, 56 percent of Republican Congress members dispute or deny man-made climate change. Despite the wealth of data and facts that support it, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has said “that data and facts don’t support it.” Despite the rapid decline in polar bear populations, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) – the man who once brought a snowball to Congress in mid-February as proof that global warming is a hoax – has literally said that polar bears are overpopulated. (And I apologize to our longtime readers, because I hate to sound like a broken record, but I always like to point out that the oil and gas industry has donated nearly $1.8 million to the Senator’s election campaigns since the 1990s.)
In the last four years, the GOP has voted against environmental legislation 551 times. It is safe to say that this political party is soundly against the notion that humans need to reconsider the planet and how we use its resources.
Climate Change and the US Military
Every branch of the US military is concerned about climate change, because every branch of the US military is responsible for researching threats to national security. And the fact of the matter is, their research has come to the same conclusions that the majority of scientists have: Climate change is now and will continue to be a major security concern for the planet.
To get the full breakdown, I recommend reading National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, a 2014 report from the Military Advisory Board of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA). The Board is a group of 16 retired flag-level officers from all branches of the Service. As Forbes so succinctly put it, “This is not a group normally considered to be liberal activists and fear-mongers.”
But if you take the time to read that lengthy report, you won’t be reading me, so allow me to save you a few hours and give you the gist of what the people charged with protecting us have to say about something that can very easily kill us.
First of all, it’s a global problem. “Whether in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, or North Korea,” the board writes, “we are already seeing how extreme weather events – such as droughts and flooding and the food shortages and population dislocations that accompany them – can destabilize governments and lead to conflict.” One example: Syria. “[O]ne trigger of the chaos in Syria has been the multi-year drought the country has experienced since 2006 and the Assad Regime’s ineptitude in dealing with it.”
Second of all, it’s a local problem. The effects of climate change have the capacity to disrupt traditional military training and operations, and have in some places already done so. According to a panel held at the Wilson Center by the Board, extreme heat has damaged roads, rail lines and airport runways in the southern and western United States. Drought in these areas can make the risk of wildfire too high for training sites to be used. The danger extends even beyond the military and to power plants in Texas, Georgia and Connecticut, where for the past six years drought “has led to insufficient cooling water” for the plants.
Third, severe weather endangers military personnel at home and abroad. US military are frequently among the first responders to major disasters like Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy. Even before Haiyan struck, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, head of US Pacific Command, said climate change was the most significant long-term threat to the region.
Fourth, there is no denial or dispute of the facts amongst the people in charge. “What surprised me was how little disagreement there was,” said retired Rear Admiral David Titley at the Wilson Center. Titley also served as the director of the Navy’s 2009 Task Force Climate Change. “We plan for everything, and we would be professionally negligent if we were not planning for this kind of magnitude of change in the battlespace.”
“Ultimately, the data wins; the observations win,” he later added. “The ice doesn’t care about politics or Democrats and Republicans; it just melts.”
You can watch Titley’s panel discuss the issues in greater detail in the video below:
Objections to the Science
Those with a vested interest in disputing the science (and those with allegedly legitimate concerns) will say that 97.1 percent is not 100 percent. They will say that just because sea level rise is projected to cost the US $1.1 trillion in damages, or surge 10 feet in just 50 years, that does not make it fact. These are the same people who like to point out that evolution is a theory. But so is gravity, and very few people have fallen off the planet this year.
General Gordon Sullivan, one of the members of the Board, put the matter thus: “People are saying they want to be perfectly convinced about climate science projections… But speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”
Unfortunately, as Eugene Skolnikoff, MIT emeritus professor of political science, has pointed out this is why it can be so difficult for politicians to act on such a frighteningly pressing concern. “The central problem is that outside the security sector, policy processes confronting issues with substantial uncertainty do not normally yield policy that has high economic or political costs,” he wrote in 1990. Climate change, he explained, “illustrates – in fact exaggerates – all the elements of this central problem.”
Right now, global warming is indisputable. The US fire season continues to grow, ice the world over continues to melt, last year was the hottest on record and this year is already overtaking it. And yet, maddeningly, things are still not quite bad enough to trigger substantial policy action. “Unfortunately,” Skolnikoff writes, “any increase in temperature will be irreversible by the time the danger becomes obvious enough to permit political action.”
Here’s what it really comes down to. Despite its reliance on fossil fuels, the US military is not indebted to the fossil fuel industry. It is indebted, ostensibly, to the American people and their protection. Therefore, when it identifies a threat to the American people, it isn’t going to lie to them for the sake of a reelection campaign.
You know I hate to sound like a broken record, but Jim Inhofe has $1.7 million in his pocket that didn’t come from you or me.