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US Military Planning For Climate Crisis

By Countercurrents.org

11 November, 2012

The US military is planning to face climate crisis. A number of its bases are threatened by sea level rise. And, there are potential new danger zones around the world [1].

The US military already cited facilities like Eglin air force base in Florida as being particularly at risk due to rising sea levels. National Academy of Sciences recommends crash course for analysts on preparing for rise in sea level and food shortages

The Pentagon was warned on November 9, 2012 to stand guard against "climate surprises" which could throw off its efforts to secure America's future.

An expert report, prepared for the intelligence community by the National Academy of Sciences, warns that the security establishment is going to start planning for natural disasters, sea-level rise, drought, epidemics and the other consequences of climate change.

The Pentagon already ranks climate change as a national security threat, putting US troops in danger around the world and adding fuel to existing conflicts. More than 30 US bases are threatened by sea level rise.

It has also identified potential new danger zones, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

The military is also working to cut back on its fuel costs in an age of budget austerity, by installing solar arrays and wind turbines, and monitoring electricity use.

But the NAS report suggests strategic planners are going to make sweeping adjustments to their planning to take account of climate change over the next decade and beyond.

Current scenarios could be thrown completely askew by "climate surprises", the report said. These could be a single catastrophic event – such as a food price shock – or a cascade of reactions that could ultimately put America at risk. "It makes sense for the intelligence community to apply a scenario approach in thinking about potentially disruptive events," the report said. "It may make sense to consider the security implications of two or three more plausible trends as a way to anticipate risks."

The study also recommends a crash course for intelligence analysts on the potential threat posed by sea-level rise, drought, food shortages and other consequences of climate change. "It is essential for the intelligence community to understand adaptation and changes in vulnerability to climate events," it said.

More than two years ago, another news report [2] said:

“The Pentagon will for the first time rank global warming as a destabilising force, adding fuel to conflict and putting US troops at risk around the world, in a major strategy review to be presented to Congress tomorrow. The quadrennial defense review, prepared by the Pentagon to update Congress on its security vision, will direct military planners to keep track of the latest climate science, and to factor global warming into their long term strategic planning.”

"While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world," said a draft of the review seen by the Guardian.

Heatwaves and freak storms could put increasing demand on the US military to respond to humanitarian crises or natural disaster. But troops could feel the effects of climate change even more directly, the draft says.

It ordered the Pentagon to review the risks posed to installations, and to combat troops by a potential increase in severe heatwaves and fires.

The review's release coincides with a sharpening focus in the American defense establishment about global warming.

The CIA in late 2009 year established a centre to collect intelligence on climate change. Earlier, CIA officials sent emails to environmental experts in Washington seeking their views on climate change impacts around the world, and how the agency could keep tabs on what actions countries were taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The CIA has also restarted a program – scrapped by George Bush – that allowed scientists and spies to share satellite images of glaciers and Arctic sea ice.

That suggests climate change is here to stay as a topic of concern for the Pentagon.

The Pentagon, in acknowledging the threat of global warming, have to factor climate change into war game exercises and long-term security assessments of badly affected regions such as the Arctic, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

"The leadership of the Pentagon has very strongly indicated that they do consider climate change to be a national security issue," said Christine Parthemore, an analyst at the Centre for a New American Security, who has been studying the Pentagon's evolving views on climate change. "They are considering climate change on a par with the political and economic factors as the key drivers that are shaping the world."

Awareness of climate change and its impact on threat levels and military capability had been slowly percolating through the ranks since 2008 when then Senators Hillary Clinton and John Warner pushed the Pentagon to look specifically at the impact of global warming in its next long-term review.

But the navy was already alive to the potential threat, with melting sea ice in the Arctic opening up a new security province. The changing chemistry of the oceans, because of global warming, is also playing havoc with submarine sonar, a report last year from the CNAS warned.
US soldiers and marines, meanwhile, were getting a hard lesson in the dangers of energy insecurity on the battlefield, where attacks on supply convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq inflicted heavy casualties.

"Our dependence on fuel adds significant cost and puts US soldiers and contractors at risk," said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defence for the environment. "Energy can be a matter of life and death and we have seen dramatically in Iraq and Afghanistan the cost of heavy reliance on fossil fuels."

She told a conference call the Pentagon would seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions from non-combat operations by 34% from 2008 levels by 2020, in line with similar cuts by the rest of the federal government.

She said the Pentagon was concerned that US military bases in America were vulnerable because of their reliance on the electric grid to cyber attack and overload in case of a natural disaster.

The US air force, in response, has built up America's biggest solar battery array in Nevada, and is testing jet fighter engines on biofuels. The Marine Corps may soon start drilling its own wells to eliminate the need to truck in bottled water in response to recommendations from a taskforce on reducing energy use in a war zone.


[1] guardian.co.uk, Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, “US military warned to prepare for consequences of climate change”, November 9, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/09/us-military-warned-climate-change

[2] The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, “Pentagon to rank global warming as destabilising force”, January 31, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/31/pentagon-ranks-global-warming-destabilising-force




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