The Ecologist

The US military is the world's single largest consumer of fossil fuels. Pictured here is US Navy Aircraft Carrier USS John C Stennis. Photo: Defence Images via
The US military is the world's single largest consumer of fossil fuels. Pictured here is US Navy Aircraft Carrier USS John C Stennis. Photo: Defence Images via
More articles about
Related Articles

Pentagon warns of climate change 'devastation'

Steve Horn

6th March 2014

Unlike many US politicians the Pentagon is a firm believer in climate science. But although it foretells climate devastation on a global scale, reports Steve Horn, it has no credible plan to cut its own gigantic fossil fuel burn.

These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad - conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

The US Department of Defense released the 2014 version of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) yesterday, declaring the threat of climate change impacts a very serious national security vulnerability that, among other things, could enable further terrorist activity.

Released every four years, the QDR is a broad outline of US military strategy discussing how to maintain global US military hegemony. Like the 2010 document, the 64-page 2014 QDR again highlights the threats posed to national security by ever-worsening global climate disruption:

"The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities."

"Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating."

A threat to civilization

For sake of context, some members of the US Congress still deny the existence of climate change, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

But the Pentagon's assessment is that global warming is not only real, but also a civilizational threat, as stated in sobering language in the past three QDRs.

As outlined in Christian Parenti's 2011 book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, the military establishment understands climate change is an unparalleled global threat, saying so clearly in reports like the QDR.

The problem: its activities around the world are in large part responsible for the threat to begin with.

'Theat multipliers' enable terrorist activity

Although climate change doesn't have its own robust section as it did in the 2010 QDR, in each of the eight times it's mentioned this time around, the QDR draws similar conclusions.

Climate change has the ability to "devastate homes, land, and infrastructure" and "may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs."

Further, the QDR says the desperation that many people, particularly in poorer regions, will face due to climate change impacts could lead to "resource competition" and even "terrorist activity".

"The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world."

"These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions - conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."

Spending the bulk of QDR ink prescribing the damages climate change will wreak on a global scale, the report also points to a few suggestions of how to tackle the crisis. Sort of.

'Creative ways' to address climate change

According to the Pentagon, it's not all doom and gloom going forward. The QDR declares: 

"The department will employ creative ways to address the impact of climate change, which will continue to affect the operating environment and the roles and missions that U.S. Armed Forces undertake.

"The Department will remain ready to operate in a changing environment amid the challenges of climate change and environmental damage."

What the Department of Defense plans to do to tackle the crisis, though, is explained only in the vaguest of terms:

"We have increased our preparedness for the consequences of environmental damage and continue to seek to mitigate these risks while taking advantage of opportunities."

The QDR then explains a couple more specific examples of its plans for the future: 

"The Department's operational readiness hinges on unimpeded access to land, air, and sea training and test space ... We are developing new policies, strategies, and plans, including the Department's Arctic Strategy."

Making a bad problem worse

Unfortunately, the Pentagon's Arctic Strategy - published in November 2013 as a follow up to President Obama's National Strategy for the Arctic Region published last May - would only make a bad problem worse.

ClimateProgress Co-Editor Ryan Koronowski unpacked this in a November 2013 article:

"The Arctic Strategy's approach follows on the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released in May, which focused - perhaps a little too much - on how a warming Arctic would allow the U.S. to access currently-inaccessible fossil fuels ...

"Indeed, the main reason why the Arctic is warming enough to create such 'historic opportunities' is the burning of fossil fuels that drives climate change."

The Pentagon's $3.8 billion gasoline spend

As DeSmogBlog has pointed out before, the Pentagon is an enormous consumer of fossil fuels. TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse set out the scale of the problem:

"In 2009, according to the Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), the military spent $3.8 billion for 31.3 million barrels - around 1.3 billion gallons - of oil consumed at posts, camps, and bases overseas."

With special operations forces stationed in over 100 countries around the world, one thing's for certain: the environmental costs of militarism are huge.

But until the Pentagon's call for "unimpeded access to land, air, and sea training and test space" ends, we can continue to expect QDRs every four years drawing increasingly horrific conclusions.



Steve Horn is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist.

This article was originally published by DeSmogBlog under the title Pentagon Calls Climate Change Impacts "Threat Multipliers," Could Enable Terrorism.


Previous Articles...


Using this website means you agree to us using simple cookies.

More information here...




Help us keep the Ecologist platform going

Since 2012, the Ecologist has been owned and published by a small UK-based charity called the Resurgence Trust. We work hard to support the kind of independent journalism and comment that we know Ecologist readers enjoy but we need your help to keep going. We do all this on a very small budget with a very small editorial team and so joining the Trust or making a donation will show us you value our work and support the platform which is currently offered as a free service.

Join The Resurgence TrustDonate to support the Resurgence Trust