February 24, 2014 – While the American Congress dithers, militaries across the globe are gearing up for the threats presented by climate change. In England, where this month a 250-year flood washed away train lines, knocked out power lines, and made 5,800 homes unlivable, the armed forces see their role as one of offering relief at home. Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, formerly of the Royal Navy, says that military planners are examining how the various branches can be put to their best use elsewhere in the event of future floods, droughts and other natural disasters. The UK’s long supply chains, which are used to import 40% of its food and over 50% of its fuel, rely on shipping “choke points” which must not be closed off.
At NATO Headquarters, Hartmund Behrend, a climate risks expert in Germany’s army, says that “ … health risks, climate change, water security and increasing energy needs will further shape the future security environment in areas of concern to NATO, and have the potential to significantly affect NATO planning and operations.” A crisis management center is in the planning stages at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Power Europe. Its task will be identifying longer term risks. Behrend believes that climate change and land degradation are two of NATO’s most important long-term challenges.
In Australia, Lieutenant-General David Morrison says that, because of the low-lying islands located nearby Australia, he envisions the military’s primary role, as climate change unfolds, being one of providing immediate assistance for humanitarian and disaster relief. Morrison believes that the development of an amphibious force will be most useful in carrying out this responsibility. Surprisingly, Australia's running battle with drought and wildfires was not mentioned.
Here in the United States, the Pentagon has recognized the urgency of preparing for climate change for a number of years. As a result, the Army is working toward net-zero energy use at several bases, and the Navy and Air Force intend to use biofuels in operating jets. In Afghanistan, Army patrols carry solar blankets and LED lamps. Current and retired military leaders view these efforts as essential to better enabling soldiers to execute their mission. The use of renewable and energy-efficient technologies, such as solar blankets that are used to recharge batteries, allows soldiers and contractors to decrease the number of resupply missions. Solar modules have limited the need for diesel fuel, thereby reducing the number of convoy trips necessary for its delivery, and the likelihood of ambushes and roadside bombs.
A 2010 Defense Department review highlighted climate change and energy security as military vulnerabilities, stating that climate change in particular is an “accelerant of instability and conflict.” Solomon Hsiang, a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton University, agrees with that assessment. His research has linked major climate events such as El Nino with a rise in civil conflict. Hsiang has established that social unrest is six percent more likely to devolve into active violence during El Nino periods. He believes that this periodic disturbance has played a role in one out of five civil conflicts since 1950. Because of Hsiang’s groundbreaking research, our military can be one step ahead during tinderbox situations. With or without congressional help.
With thanks to scientificamerican.com, radioaustralia.net.au, and rtcc.org.