Climate Change and National Security: Pentagon Says Global Warming Is Real and Is Planning for the Worst

Climate Change and National Security: Pentagon Says Global Warming Is Real and Is Planning for the Worst : Living Green Magazine.


| July 4, 2012

By Richard Kujawski, Managing Editor

I’ve got news for anyone who thinks that global warming is a myth and that climate change is a hoax: The U.S. military, the CIA, and enough national security experts to fill the deck of our largest aircraft carrier are pretty sure you’re wrong—and that listening to you could cost lives. Seriously.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense presented to Congress its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. In the report, the Pentagon will officially identify climate change as a national security threat. As a result, it will prepare contingency plans to deal with its consequences, such as droughts, floods, and violent storms that can lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease outbreaks, and mass migrations of displaced people—in our backyard and around the planet.

The report will also acknowledge the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations international organization that works with the World Meteorological Organization to gather and report world climate data. That’s the group that won the Nobel Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore for their scientific evidence of global warming.

Other agencies are also responding to the repercussions of climate change on people and governments. The State Department will address the climate change issue in its new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Last fall, the Central Intelligence Agency established a new Center for the Study of Climate Change. Also, President Barack Obama has made the effects of climate change on national security a central policy focus.

Our military and intelligence planners have long considered the strategic implications of our dependence on oil from sometimes unfriendly foreign sources. For the past several years, they have also been brainstorming the security and geopolitical challenges of dealing with global climate change. Emphasis increased in 2008 due to prodding by then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, president of the American Security Project (, said in a National Public Radio story, “The American people expect the military to plan for the worst. It’s that sort of mindset, I think, that has convinced, in my view, the vast majority of military leaders that climate change is a real threat and that the military plays an important role in confronting it.”

The American Security Project is no tree-hugging group of granola crunchers—mostly not. Its Board of Directors is chaired by former Senator Gary Hart, and has a number of retired generals and politicians on it, plus Senator John Kerry, chair of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, and a strong proponent of climate change legislation. To see some of the best articles available on climate change, go to their sister website

Some of the specific challenges that the military is planning for include:

• Storms and rising oceans endanger bases in the U.S. and overseas. Military bases in Florida were ravaged in Homestead by Hurricane Andrew and in Pensacola by Hurricane Ivan. The Pentagon is looking for ways to protect the naval stations in Norfolk, VA and San Diego, CA from high seas and major storms. A critical base in the Indian Ocean is just inches above the current water level.

• Melting Arctic ice cap is exposing a sea of problems. If our northern polar ice cap fully disappears in some future summer, then Canada, Russia, USA, and several other countries will be arguing over shipping lanes on the newly thawed waters—and potential natural resources under them. In fact, countries are already planting tiny flags on the ocean floor to establish territorial claims.

• Droughts, floods, and storms will increase the global need for relief. According to the New York Times, the National Intelligence Council completed its first assessment of the national security implications of climate change in 2008. The agency concluded that “Storms, droughts and food shortages that might result from a warming planet in coming decades would create numerous relief emergencies.” The experiences in Haiti and New Orleans show just how hard it is to provide quick and adequate relief. The U.S. military expects to be involved in more efforts like this around the world as a result of climate change.

• Mass migrations of weather refugees and food/water shortages will foster terrorism and political unrest. National security experts agree that climate-caused catastrophes could destabilize already-fragile governments and cause civil unrest or even topple governments. Terrorist movements can gain recruits among those suffering and homeless, and entire regions can become hotbeds of anger directed at the western nations that created the climate change crisis. Military troops may become involved to quell unrest, resulting in the unfortunate loss of lives.

All of this has been known since 2007, when a landmark report on climate change and national security was published by the CNA Corporation (, a think tank in Alexandria, VA. The report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” was written by the Military Advisory Board (MAB), consisting of six retired admirals and five retired generals. The report warns that global warming poses a “serious threat to America’s national security” and that “The chaos that results can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide and the growth of terrorism.”

The authors warned that “projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations.” It’s estimated that by 2040, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia are likely to face severe shortages of food and drinking water, and unprecedented flooding that will require massive amounts of humanitarian relief. Major flooding could cause people of one religious belief to escape into another country with a different belief and cause religious strife.

The report pulled no punches. “Weakened and failing governments, with an already-thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies.” The report also said. “The U.S. will be drawn more frequently into these situations.” It even called for the Bush Administration to make major cuts in emissions of gases that cause global warming.

MAB member General Gordon Sullivan, former U.S. Army chief of staff, said that “Climate change exacerbates already unstable situations. Everybody needs to start paying attention to what’s going on. I don’t think this is a particularly hard sell in the Pentagon. … We’re paying attention to what those security implications are.”

Another MAB member is General Anthony “Tony” Zinni, the former Middle East envoy for President George Bush the junior, and former commander of U.S. Central Command. In the report he said, “It’s not hard to make the connection between climate change and instability, or climate change and terrorism.”

He continues, “We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll.”

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