Environment

Climate scientists are largely in agreement that the earth’s climate is changing, and carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are playing a role. Even so, politicians continue to argue about the severity of the problem, or whether climate change even exists.

But some organizations are already dealing with the fallout from climate change, including the U.S. Department of Defense. The Pentagon released a report Monday about the national security implications of the world’s changing climate.

A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions. The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters. Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities. Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions. Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained. While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action. Every day, our military deals with global uncertainty. Our planners know that, as military strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight.”

The Pentagon’s report lays out ways the defense department will attempt to both adapt to the challenges posed by a changing climate and try to mitigate the damage. The military estimates that climate change could cause physical and infrastructure problems at bases around the world and could disrupt supply chains.

But there’s also a threat multiplier. Climate change is contributing to problems like droughts and famine in volatile areas of the world, which is stoking or exacerbating conflict. In a seminar I attended last month organized by the Metcalf Institute, retired Lt. General John Castellaw pegged widespread migration due to a drought in Syria five years ago to some of the current chaos in the country. The U.S. military is already involved in conflicts like these, and the paper released Monday suggests the defense department is interested in addressing climate change, even if many of the country’s politicians are not.