Fighting Global Warming, too

Since it’s Memorial Day, I thought it would be good to do a post on the military, and how they are or aren’t reacting to global warming. There hasn’t been a lot of action, but there is every indication that that’s about to change. An interesting study, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, authored by eleven Generals and Admirals, representing every service branch came to a set of conclusions that should be familiar to readers of this site. The study was released April 16, 2007, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until lately. The military is starting to see some of the tie-ins between Sustainability and War.

It would suggest to those that really care about the environment that they actually have a certain common cause with the military, at least on this issue. And vice versa.

In any case, some important highlights from the report. Here’s the introduction, which paints the standard picture that everyone should be familiar with, but I am repeating it here because of who is saying it (the military establishment), rather than what is said:

Over many months and meetings, we met with some of the world’s leading climate scientists, business leaders, and others studying climate change. We viewed their work through the lens of our military experience as warfighters,planners, and leaders. Our discussions have been lively, informative, and very sobering.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are greater now than at any time in the past 650,000 years, and average global temperature has continued a steady rise. This rise presents the prospect of significant climate change, and while uncertainty exists and debate continues regarding the science and future extent if projected climate changes, the trends are clear.

The nature and pace of climate changes being observed today and the consequences projected by the consensus scientific opinion are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security. Moving beyond the arguments of cause and effect, it is important that the U.S. military begin planning to address these potentially devastating effects. The consequences of climate change can affect the organization, training, equipping, and planning of the military services. The U.S. military has a clear obligation to determine the potential impacts of climate change on its ability to execute its missions in support of national security objectives.

Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States. Accordingly, it is appropriate to start now to help mitigate the severity of some of these emergent challenges. The decision to act should be made soon in order to plan prudently for the nation’s security. The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.

And here’s a summary of the recommendations, which range from nuts and bolts items, such as #5, to #3 which is just about as plain a call as any for the USA to join the Kyoto Protocol, and even more importantly, subsequent Post-Kyoto agreements, that be more agressive in their reach:

1. The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national
defense strategies.

As military leaders, we know we cannot wait for certainty. Failing to act because a warning isn’t precise enough is unacceptable. The intelligence community should incorporate climate consequences into its National Intelligence Estimate. The National Security Strategy should directly address the threat of climate change to our national security interests. The National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy should include appropriate guidance to military planners to assess risks to current and future missions caused by projected climate change. The next Quadrennial Defense Review should examine the capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to the consequences of climate change, in particular, preparedness for natural disasters from extreme weather events, pandemic disease events, and other related missions.

2. The U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate change at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.

Managing the security impacts of climate change requires two approaches: mitigating the effects we can control and adapting to those we cannot. The U.S. should become a more constructive partner with the international community to help build and execute a plan to prevent destabilizing effects from climate change, including setting targets for long term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

3. The U.S. should commit to global partnerships that help less developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.

As President Bush noted in his State of the Union speech, “Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required.” Climate forecasts indicate countries least able to adapt to the consequences of climate change are those that will be the most affected. The U.S. government should use its many instruments of national influence, including its regional commanders, to assist nations at risk build the capacity and resiliency to better cope with the effects of climate change. Doing so now can help avert humanitarian disasters later.

4. The Department of Defense should enhance its operational capability by accelerating the adoption of improved business processes and innovative technologies that result in improved U.S. combat power through energy efficiency.

Numerous Department of Defense studies have found that combat forces would be more capable and less vulnerable by significantly reducing their fuel demand. Unfortunately, many of their recommendations have yet to be implemented. Doing so would have the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

5. The Department of Defense should conduct an assessment of the impact on U.S. military installations worldwide of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other projected climate change impacts over the next 30 to 40 years.

Many critical defense installations are located on the coast, and several strategically important ones are on low-lying Pacific islands. Sea level rise and storm surges will threaten these facilities. Planning and action can make these installations more resilient. Lack of planning can compromise them or cause them to be inundated, compromising
military readiness and capability.

Criticisms are minor, in that the two paragraphs on public health impacts of climate change don’t really do justice to the problems we are likely to face here, taking into account the extent to which new zoonotic diseases are emerging (acknowledgement of the 100 fold increase since 1900 would have put a magnitude on this important problem) but, all in all this report still gets an A for its breadth, and its ability to connect the dots, seeing how the military is affected by events taking place outside of their culture of knowledge.

I’ll end with a few select quotes, from the report:

“ We never have 100 percent certainty. We never have it. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

— GENERAL GORDON R. SULLIVAN, USA (Ret.) Chairman, Military Advisory Board | Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“I was a total agnostic,” Truly said. “I had spent most of my life in the space and aeronautics world, and hadn’t really wrestled with this. I was open-minded. Over the course of the next few years, I started really paying attention to the data. When I looked at what energy we had used over the past couple of centuries and what was in the atmosphere today, I knew there had to be a connection. I wasn’t convinced by a person or any interest group—it was the data that got me. As I looked at it on my own, I couldn’t come to any other conclusion. Once I got past that point, I was utterly convinced of this connection between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change. And I was convinced that if we didn’t do something about this, we would be in deep trouble.”

— VICE ADMIRAL RICHARD H. TRULY, USN (Ret.) Former NASA Administrator, Shuttle Astronaut and the first Commander of the Naval Space Command

Fighting Global Warming, too

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