US military’s got climate right

Please, Prime Minister, can we follow the US military into battle this time. We blindly and foolishly followed them into war in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, imagining, quite wrongly that it would improve our national security. But this time, for once, it would be intelligent to follow the US military in its global war against the climate crisis.

This week Australian conservative politicians appeared grim-faced amid an early November bushfire crisis. They blamed the Greens for blockingallowing hazard-reduction burning. Or they said that we have always had droughts and bushfires. 

For them, global heating does not get a mention, yet it is obviously contributing to more fires, more severe fires, and earlier fires. Moreover, it is global heating, not the Greenies, which has caused the window for hazard reduction to be too narrow to be effective. We had major bushfires in September, a month when without global heating, it would have been reasonable to do hazard-reducing burns.

So contrary to the position of the leader and former leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister, now – amid a bushfire crisis – is precisely the right time to talk about the dangers of the climate crisis and global heating.

As it happens, a book was published this week outlining how the US military is responding to the climate crisis. Guess what? It is not denying it, despite the Denier in Chief occupying the White House. It is not saying it will go away in some sort of cycle, or that it is not human-induced. To the contrary, the US military recognises the climate crisis as the biggest threat ever to US national security.

The book is aptly entitled “All Hell Breaking Loose. The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change” by Michael T. Klare. Klare is not, in the words of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack a Greenie or “inner city raving lunatic”. He is a professor of security studies Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He mainly writes about defence and national security, not the environment. 

Military leaders rarely speak publicly on issues that have become politically sensitive. But that does not mean they do not act to protect national security or do not communicate their concerns to their own people.

Klare quotes a lot of publicly available and more obscure documents that reveal that senior US officers understand the threat.

 “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.

“These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

Klare writes that the Pentagon identifies three main threats: the increase in conflict and chaos abroad; the exposure of the homeland to ever more destructive climate effects; and the obstruction of the military’s capacity to carry out its assigned missions.

As global temperatures rise, essential resources will dwindle in many poor and divided countries, provoking conflict and opportunities for terrorists. Deadly pandemics and incessant warfare will result in a relentless call on the US to provide humanitarian relief and troop support.

But at home the increasing frequency of storm clusters will mean the armed forces will repeatedly be called upon to provide relief, diverting them from other core responsibilities.

But the same storms that devastated much of the southeast in 2017 and 2018 also battered numerous military bases, resulting in the mandatory evacuation of most personnel. 

So while US allies are begging for US help to avert collapse, the homeland is reeling from several major climate disasters and vital military installations are incapacitated by storms or wildfires – all hell breaking lose.

The Pentagon has not been idle. It has constructed sea walls at low-lying coastal bases and made major investments in renewable energy. 

So Great Barrier Reef and endangered species aside, global heating, in the eyes of the US military, poses a grave security threat to humankind.

And it is not just the US. In Australia, the former Chief of the Defence Forces, retired Admiral Chris Barrie, this month argued, “It is evident from Australia’s increasingly severe droughts and record-breaking heatwaves that time is running out to take action on climate change. Yet, despite persistent calls from eminent scientists to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels, a call to action has gone unanswered by our political leaders.”

Barrie is hardly an “inner city raving lunatic”.

And let’s not have this rubbish about Australia not being able to make a difference. It is akin the brilliant 1932 Low cartoon about the looming world financial crisis with the rich nations in the bow of a boat and the poor in the leaking stern with a caption: “That’s nasty leak. Thank goodness it is not at our end of the boat.”

In most parts of the world we have stopped greedy asbestos miners from grabbing individual profits, leaving the economic and human cost of lung disease to be picked up by the community at large.

In 1987 the world successfully demanded a stop to profiteering chemical companies making the dangerous refrigeration chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer, threatening the health of humankind.

We have to do the same for fossil fuels, as quickly as possible. Cheaper, cleaner alternatives are available. But the political will is absent because of the power, wealth, selfishness and greed of the fossil-fuel producers.

Unfortunately, the US military’s power is limited mostly to alleviating the symptoms, not attacking the root cause, of global heating. But they are on the right track.

If we were “raving lunatic” enough to follow the US military into Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, please can we be “raving lunatic” enough to take notice of their attitude to the climate crisis. If the Deputy Prime Minister wants to call people concerned about the threat to national security posed by global heating “raving lunatics”, he stands accused of also calling the US military and a former Australian Defence Forces chief “raving lunatics”.

But in this week of catastrophic bushfires more people will be coming to understand who the real “raving lunatics” are – the people mad enough to deny the threat and the economic and human cost of doing nothing or doing too little too late.


This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 16 November 2019.

2 thoughts on “US military’s got climate right”

  1. I think Crispin has got it right – we cannot rely on politics to sort out the real hard issues. Just look what the appeal to the majority has, and will do, to the UK. I actually trust the US military to get a lot closer to the truth than politicians are likely to – they are at least well used to understanding and working with science and the laws of nature.

  2. One wonders why the Prime Minister could not find time to meet with all the ex heads of Rural Fire Service and listen to their concerns about bringing aircraft over early this year to fight fires.

    Luckily we live in a democracy albeit one with most media now encrusted to murdoch, so we will have to rely on politicians to use question time to ask the PM about each day in his calendar for the last 6 months (yep one day at a time) to see if he was really to busy to not focus on an emerging emergency.

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