United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke in Peru on Monday about how the Pentagon views the threat of climate change and what it is doing to combat it. The Pentagon also released a report about measures and future plans, which has brought backlash from conservative climate change deniers currently in office. While the report acknowledges the threat of climate change, it does not suggest a simple military solution. Instead, it emphasises that the response must come from other sources than just the military. In effect the report says that understanding the new realities created by climate change, such as extreme weather, drought, or higher sea levels, will have to factor in to logistical planning in the future. Those who deny climate change is happening at all take issue with that viewpoint.
The defense secretary announced the report in Peru during a meeting of top defense officials. Peru is currently in the grip of a severe drought, which helped highlight Hagel’s emphasis on “threat multipliers.” Drought may create unrest in the public, which could complicate any military missions of relief or even create a revolt that the military could be called in to deal with. That kind of outcome created by the effects of climate change is the kind of threat multiplier Secretary Hagel and the report are concerned with. Such things “have the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today.” According to Hagel’s forward to the report, such things are already being seen at the present time.
The emphasis on future planning was quite clear in the Pentagon’s talk of climate change and increased threat. Considerations of climate change will be integrated in the logistical planning of future missions and already figure in war games and planning scenarios. But while the military is doing its part to prepare, it is not the only organization that must be involved in preparing for the effects of climate change. The report and Hagel make clear that while a military response must be planned for, other organizations must play a part. Collaboration between government and civilian agencies is referred to, as is cooperation with foreign governments. The emphasis is not solely on the military in what is being called a “climate change adaptation roadmap.”
There is also talk of the need of political cooperation in a realm where scientific consensus has not translated into political consensus. Republicans are some of the primary deniers of climate change and have been critical of this new plan. At a time when ISIS and Ebola are consistently front page news, focusing on the “myth” of climate change seems ridiculous to some observers. Republican Senator James Inhofe expressed disappointment in the plan, but also said it was “not surprising that the president and his administration would focus on climate change when there are other, legitimate threats.” Secretary Hagel, however, sought to head off such criticisms by saying, “We have already seen these events unfold in other regions of the world, and there are worrying signs that climate change will create serious risks to stability in our own hemisphere.” In his view, ignoring the evidence of a threat should not be motivated by political partisanship. The fact that he spoke about risks to stability in drought-stricken Peru was an effective backdrop to his warnings of problems ahead.
In the forward to the report, Hagel wrote, “Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.” The Pentagon’s report is an attempt to plan for the future and any unforeseeable threats that may occur. Armed with the best information, the intent is to prevent problems before they happen. In that respect, the report and Hagel’s stance are well in line with the mission the Pentagon has to safeguard the security of the nation. The partisan backlash against any talk of climate change or its threat to the nation underscored the Pentagon’s calls for unity and also the present problem of finding any kind of consensus on what America should do about it.
By Lydia Bradbury