It feels a bit like whiplash, going from yesterday’s post about healing and hope, to today’s about rapidly evolving environmental chaos. But whiplash seems to describe the times we are living in.
A recent article on the Daily Kos, (US Army finds that the ‘military could collapse within twenty years’ thanks to climate breakdown. Daily Kos, Oct. 26, 2019) provided the interesting juxtaposition of the dire environmental analysis in a report just released from the U.S. Army, with a short video exploring why we haven’t found an effective way to talk about climate change, Climate Change: A Cry from the Future. That video and a partial transcript from it are at the end of this post.
Many people object to trying to determine a timeline related to environmental collapse. And many who suspect the collapse to be a real possibility consider it to be counterproductive to dwell on. But when an organization of the size and with the expertise of the U.S. Army creates a report titled “Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army“, I think the analysis and warnings should be seriously considered. The military has long been seen as the one part of our government that has taken environmental destruction seriously, because of the threats to military readiness and operations, as well as driving global conflict.
The report, commissioned by the Pentagon, found that the next couple of decades will be so chaotic due to a warming climate that we will be unable to adapt in time. Our inability to change will be the result of years of inaction by ‘leaders’ who have kicked the proverbial can of worms down the road for future generations to solve.US Army finds that the ‘military could collapse within twenty years’ thanks to climate breakdown. Daily Kos, Oct. 26, 2019
The report predicts that within the next twenty years, our power grid infrastructure will be unable to adapt to the expected extreme temperatures that are bearing down upon us. During this time, people will be hungry, thirsty, and unable to cope with unbearable heat. The PGE crisis provides a glimpse into the future, Millions Of Californians Brace For Power Outages As Wildfires Ravage State.
While I think the analysis found in the report is good, I believe the conclusion reached by the Daily Kos is accurate and very important. “We would be better off dealing with the root cause of the issue skirted over by this report: America’s chronic dependence on the oil and gas driving the destabilization of the planet’s ecosystems.“
In putting this forward, the report inadvertently illustrates what happens when climate is seen through a narrow ‘national security’ lens. Instead of encouraging governments to address root causes through “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” (in the words of the UN’s IPCC report this time last year), the Army report demands more money and power for military agencies while allowing the causes of climate crisis to accelerate. It’s perhaps no surprise that such dire scenarios are predicted, when the solutions that might avert those scenarios aren’t seriously explored.US Army finds that the ‘military could collapse within twenty years’ thanks to climate breakdown. Daily Kos, Oct. 26, 2019
Rather than waiting for the US military to step in after climate collapse—at which point the military itself could be at risk of collapsing—we would be better off dealing with the root cause of the issue skirted over by this report: America’s chronic dependence on the oil and gas driving the destabilization of the planet’s ecosystems.
Executive Summary: Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army
Sea level rise, changes in water and food security, and more frequent extreme weather events are likely to result in the migration of large segments of the population. Rising seas will displace tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people, creating massive, enduring instability. This migration will be most pronounced in those regions where climate vulnerability is exacerbated by weak institutions and governance and underdeveloped civil society. Recent history has shown that mass human migrations can result in increased propensity for conflict and turmoil as new populations intermingle with and compete against established populations. More frequent extreme weather events will also increase demand for military humanitarian assistance.Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army
Salt water intrusion into coastal areas and changing weather patterns will also compromise or eliminate fresh water supplies in many parts of the world. Additionally, warmer weather increases hydration requirements. This means that in expeditionary warfare, the Army will need to supply itself with more water. This significant logistical burden will be exacerbated on a future battlefield that requires constant movement due to the ubiquity of adversarial sensors and their deep strike capabilities.
A warming trend will also increase the range of insects that are vectors of infectious tropical diseases. This, coupled with large scale human migration from tropical nations, will increase the spread of infectious disease. The Army has tremendous logistical capabilities, unique in the world, in working in austere or unsafe environments. In the event of a significant infectious disease outbreak (domestic or international), the Army is likely to be called upon to assist in the response and containment.
Arctic ice will continue to melt in a warming climate. These Arctic changes present both challenges and opportunities. The decrease in Arctic sea ice and associated sea level rise will bring conflicting claims to newly-accessible natural resources. It will also introduce a new theater of direct military contact between an increasingly belligerent Russia and other Arctic nations, including the U.S. Yet the opening of the Arctic will also increase commercial opportunities. Whether due to increased commercial shipping traffic or expanded opportunities for hydrocarbon extraction, increased economic activity will drive a requirement for increased military expenditures specific to that region. In short, competition will increase.
The increased likelihood of more intense and longer duration drought in some areas, accompanied by greater atmospheric heating, will put an increased strain on the aging U.S. power grid and further spur large scale human migration elsewhere. Power generation in U.S. hydroelectric and nuclear facilities will be affected. This dual attack on both supply and demand could create more frequent, widespread and enduring power grid failures, handicapping the U.S. economy.
In addition to the changing environmental conditions that will contribute to a changing security environment, climate change will likely also result in social, political, and market pressures that may profoundly affect the Army’s (and DoD’s) activities. Studies indicate that global society, including in the U.S., increasingly views climate change as a grave threat to security. As the electorate becomes more concerned about climate change, it follows that elected officials will, as well. This may result in significant restrictions on military activities (in peacetime) that produce carbon emissions. In concert with these changes, consumer demands will drive market adaptation. Businesses will focus on more environmentally sound products and practices to meet demand.
The DoD does not currently possess an environmentally conscious mindset. Political and social pressure will eventually force the military to mitigate its environmental impact in both training and wartime. Implementation of these changes will be costly in effort, time and money. This is likely to occur just as the DoD is adjusting to changes in the security environment previously highlighted.
Climate Change: A Cry from the Future
‘The future has come to meet us’. Ahead of climate strikes started by Greta Thunberg, the FT and the Royal Court collaborate on a short drama exploring inaction on climate change. Actress Nicola Walker, transmitting news from 2050, asks why we ‘never really learnt how to talk about this’. Financial Times
We never found the way to make ourselves do enough,Financial Times https://youtu.be/j43XK0wzMd4
I mean, some of us, yes.
But doing enough consistently, talking
in a way that made this possible to grasp
in the quiet parts of life in the times between the times
that we all march, no.
We needed to make this as everyday as bath time.
As graspable as pre-packed sandwiches or your loved
And we didn’t.
Every time we tried to make the defining statement,
we thought, maybe this is the one.
Maybe this is the one that gets through.
We didn’t need data or heroes.
We didn’t even need voices pretending
to be from the future.
We’re in the same place.
It’s not about our children or our grandchildren anymore.
The future has come to meet us.
Most of the people watching this will be there when it happens.
We needed to understand, quietly,
every day, that this is the future–
Every single second.
We’re not waiting for the future.
We’re not trying to fend it off.
We’re living in it.
It is now.
And it is us.