Climate Change’s Threat to the Military

November 13, 2019

Motherboard:

According to a new U.S. Army report, Americans could face a horrifically grim future from climate change involving blackouts, disease, thirst, starvation and war. The study found that the US military itself might also collapse. This could all happen over the next two decades, the report notes.

The senior US government officials who wrote the report are from several key agencies including the Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, and NASA. The study called on the Pentagon to urgently prepare for the possibility that domestic power, water, and food systems might collapse due to the impacts of climate change as we near mid-century.

The report was commissioned by General Mark Milley, Trump’s new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the highest-ranking military officer in the country (the report also puts him at odds with Trump, who does not take climate change seriously.)

The report, titled Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army, was launched by the U.S. Army War College in partnership with NASA in May at the Wilson Center in Washington DC. The report was commissioned by Gen. Milley during his previous role as the Army’s Chief of Staff. It was made publicly available in August via the Center for Climate and Security, but didn’t get a lot of attention at the time.

The two most prominent scenarios in the report focus on the risk of a collapse of the power grid within “the next 20 years,” and the danger of disease epidemics. Both could be triggered by climate change in the near-term, it notes.

“Increased energy requirements” triggered by new weather patterns like extended periods of heat, drought, and cold could eventually overwhelm “an already fragile system.”

The report also warns that the US military should prepare for new foreign interventions in Syria-style conflicts, triggered due to climate-related impacts. Bangladesh in particular is highlighted as the most vulnerable country to climate collapse in the world. 

“The permanent displacement of a large portion of the population of Bangladesh would be a regional catastrophe with the potential to increase global instability,” the report warns. “This is a potential result of climate change complications in just one country. Globally, over 600 million people live at sea level.”

The report also warns that the US military should prepare for new foreign interventions in Syria-style conflicts, triggered due to climate-related impacts. Bangladesh in particular is highlighted as the most vulnerable country to climate collapse in the world. 

“The permanent displacement of a large portion of the population of Bangladesh would be a regional catastrophe with the potential to increase global instability,” the report warns. “This is a potential result of climate change complications in just one country. Globally, over 600 million people live at sea level.”

The report also warns that the US military should prepare for new foreign interventions in Syria-style conflicts, triggered due to climate-related impacts. Bangladesh in particular is highlighted as the most vulnerable country to climate collapse in the world. 

“The permanent displacement of a large portion of the population of Bangladesh would be a regional catastrophe with the potential to increase global instability,” the report warns. “This is a potential result of climate change complications in just one country. Globally, over 600 million people live at sea level.”

The report’s grim prediction has already started playing out, with utility PG&E cutting power to more than a million people across California to avoid power lines sparking another catastrophic wildfire. While climate change is intensifying the dry season and increasing fire risks, PG&E has come under fire for failing to fix the state’s ailing power grid.

The US Army report shows that California’s power outage could be a taste of things to come, laying out a truly dystopian scenario of what would happen if the national power grid was brought down by climate change. One particularly harrowing paragraph lists off the consequences bluntly:

“If the power grid infrastructure were to collapse, the United States would experience significant: 

  • Loss of perishable foods and medications 
  • Loss of water and wastewater distribution systems
  • Loss of heating/air conditioning and electrical lighting systems 
  • Loss of computer, telephone, and communications systems (including airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services) 
  • Loss of public transportation systems 
  • Loss of fuel distribution systems and fuel pipelines
  • Loss of all electrical systems that do not have back-up power”

Although the report does not dwell on the implications, it acknowledges that a national power grid failure would lead to a perfect storm requiring emergency military responses that might eventually weaken the ability of the US Army to continue functioning at all: “Relief efforts aggravated by seasonal climatological effects would potentially accelerate the criticality of the developing situation. The cascading effects of power loss… would rapidly challenge the military’s ability to continue operations.”

Inside Climate News:

U.S. troops, already sweating through dangerous summer heat at military bases across the country, could face an extra month of life-threatening heat every year by mid-century, on average, as the planet warms, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists warns.

The military has been struggling with how to develop a sustained, comprehensive strategy for dealing with rising global temperatures, from how to train in sweltering summer conditions at home to its effects in war zones. 

The new report, released on Veterans Day, shows how quickly that risk will rise if countries don’t rein in the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

“Thousands of service people suffer from heat-related illnesses every year, and the problem is set to grow much worse,” said Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and the lead author of the report. “The growing number of dangerously hot days could pose a challenge to the military’s efforts to protect service members’ health while also ensuring mission readiness.”

12 Responses to “Climate Change’s Threat to the Military”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I notice the Navy doesn’t have a major issue with heat, but there’s this small issue of much of their infrastructure being located at sea level.

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      “I notice the Navy doesn’t have a major issue with heat,…”

      I can assure you, as one who has been there, that working in high temps (128F) and humidity below decks in an aircraft hangar at sea in the tropics is no picnic, with rivers of seat running down an F4’s stabilator onto the steel deck forming a large puddle. Efficiency was certainly impacted with frequent necessary breaks with lime juice (from powder added to water with ice and added salt) being quaffed on the nearest weather deck. Thus qualifying for our nick name of Limeys.

  2. Roger Walker Says:

    Good as far as it goes. But the article goes on:

    “And yet the report’s biggest blind-spot is its agnosticism on the necessity for a rapid whole society transition away from fossil fuels.

    Bizarrely for a report styling itself around the promotion of environmental stewardship in the Army, the report identifies the Arctic as a critical strategic location for future US military involvement: to maximize fossil fuel consumption.

    Noting that the Arctic is believed to hold about a quarter of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves, the authors estimate that some 20 percent of these reserves could be within US territory, noting a “greater potential for conflict” over these resources, particularly with Russia.

    The melting of Arctic sea ice is depicted as a foregone conclusion over the next few decades, implying that major new economic opportunities will open up to exploit the region’s oil and gas resources as well as to establish new shipping routes: “The US military must immediately begin expanding its capability to operate in the Artic to defend economic interests and to partner with allies across the region.”

    Senior US defense officials in Washington clearly anticipate a prolonged role for the US military, both abroad and in the homeland, as climate change wreaks havoc on critical food, water and power systems. Apart from causing fundamental damage to our already strained democratic systems, the bigger problem is that the US military is by far a foremost driver of climate change by being the world’s single biggest institutional consumer of fossil fuels.”

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    One would imagine that military agencies, needing to justify the huge amounts of monies lavished upon them, have been in the threat exaggeration business for decades.

    Any independent sources predicting the collapse of our power grid?

  4. redskylite Says:

    Not only “blackouts, disease, thirst, starvation and war.” but many other risks too, some seen and possible to mitigate against, some maybe overlooked (as unfortunately we sometimes do). Don’t underestimate the long term effects of climate change.

    ===============================================

    Most munitions are designed to withstand severe heat but only in the relatively short term. If exposed to extreme temperatures and humidity for long enough, a munition can become unstable and may even more or less strip itself apart. The wood in antipersonnel stake mines rots; rubber and plastic in plastic mines can shatter in the unrelenting sun.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-may-be-blowing-up-arms-depots/

  5. indy222 Says:

    Peter,

    This is a little off the current topic, but in case you missed it, Peter, this is a moment worthy of a replay of your clip from “Erik the Viking”, as Venice politicians kill a measure to deal with sea level rise, right before vacating the chambers as flood waters invade.

    https://earther.gizmodo.com/venice-regional-council-floods-after-it-kills-measures-1839861496

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I feel like such a meanyhead when I point out Richard Alley’s assessment of the most expensive way to respond to climate change:
      (a) Community plans a major project to protect itself from flooding.
      (b) Budget pressures have them constructing the cheapest defense that they can convince themselves will still work. (And it will still have cost overruns.)
      (c) People continue to invest confidently behind the defenses.
      (d) Major flood/surge/rainbomb event overcomes defenses long before the expected lifetime of the defense.

      [BTW, the New Orleans levees failed at below specification; Katrina’s surge was well within the designed—but not maintained—level of protection. Also, the catastrophic flooding in the Lower 9th was because of a barge that came loose and breached the wall of the Industrial Canal.]

  6. redskylite Says:

    The Navy learns from the past (Circa 650 BC)

    In the Navy they get steak, caviar and whipped cream cake
    They have fancy cooks who know what cooking means
    In the Army we get mess, and it really is a mess
    Oh, the Navy gets the gravy, but the Army gets the beans
    (beans, beans, beans, beans, beans, beans).

    =============================================
    How climate change destroyed an ancient war machine

    Uncertain climate, unsustainable growth

    Our findings have current-day implications.

    In modern times, the same region that once constituted the Assyrian core has been repeatedly struck by multiyear droughts. The catastrophic drought of 2007–2008 in northern Iraq and Syria, the most severe in the past 50 years, led to cereal crop failures across the region.

    Droughts like this one offer a glimpse of what Assyrians endured during the mid-seventh century BC. And the collapse of the Neo-Assyrian Empire offers a warning to today’s societies.

    Climate change is here to stay. In the 21st century, people have what Neo-Assyrians did not: the benefit of hindsight and plenty of observational data. Unsustainable growth in politically volatile and water-stressed regions is a time-tested recipe for disaster.

    https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/11/15/how-climate-change-destroyed-an-ancient-war-machine/


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: