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For the Pentagon, Climate Change an Unwavering Reality

by Andrew Grandahl

As the Trump administration continues to battle climate science, it's beginning to feel like every corner of government has been infiltrated by imposters. When Scott Pruitt, newly appointed head of the EPA tells the press that carbon dioxide is not “a primary contributor” to global warming with a straight face, you know we are in deep trouble. If the EPA chief denies the consensus of the environmental science field, all hope must truly be lost, right?

The only comforting news here is that there still remain government agencies that will not deny the reality and challenges of global climate disruption. One agency moving forward despite the Trump-era attempts to remove any and all strategic thinking regarding the climate is also a very powerful one: the Department of Defense. For decades, high-ranking members of the military have warned of the increasing threat climate change poses to national security and global stability. This threat is particularly acute in regions that are more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions such as drought, flooding, famine, and sea-level rise. In recent years, the Pentagon has cautioned that global warming will aggravate already volatile political situations. As such, national security and defense strategies must account for the expected effects of climate change. Indeed, the conflicts in Syria and Yemen have been linked to drought and water scarcity, with massive security implications for the region and world.

Little reporting has been done on the 15-year drought that ravaged Syria and put over 75% of Syrian farmers out of business. NASA researchers stated that it was the worst drought the region had seen in 900 years. Unemployed farmers and their families who lost their livelihoods were forced to migrate to urban areas in search of work, and the employment options were oftentimes just as bleak. This led many families to choose among making the difficult migration to Turkey or other countries, continuing to live in despair, or for a small minority, turning to terrorist groups like ISIS for survival. History has proven that when faced with no alternatives, people will go to extreme measures to provide for their families. This is likely just the beginning of the significant geopolitical ramifications of climate change that the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world will experience with extreme and increasingly irregular climate conditions.

The Pentagon’s motivation to fight climate change and transition to clean energy is also seen in efforts to reduce soldier casualties caused by refueling missions. In 2007 in Iraq, 1 out of every 40 fuel convoys resulted in the death or serious injury of an American soldier. That same year in Afghanistan, 1 in 24 convoys resulted in casualties. Military officials are advocating for replacing diesel-generated power supplies in the field with solar power, which do not require risky refueling missions, and also run silently, further increasing troop safety. Additionally, with the advent of mass-produced, high efficiency battery systems, the implementation of this solar capacity can happen even more rapidly.

In the Pentagon, the new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, has broken ranks with every other Trump-appointed official in the administration he now serves. Mattis has stated clearly that it is crucial for the U.S. to take into account a thawing arctic, drought-stricken regions which perpetuate existing instabilities, and the repercussions of a changing climate in all global trouble-spots. He has also accentuated that this is not some distant “what-if” problem, but a real time issue that needs to be dealt with now. Though encouraging, his statements are far from a rallying cry to address the root causes of global warming. The Trump administration may choose to deny the realities of climate change, but the U.S. military, on the front lines of the most severe impacts of global warming, will continue to strengthen its capacities in the face of climate change and reduce risks related to fossil fuels, regardless of the slanted agenda coming out of the executive branch.

Andrew Grandahl is a guest blogger for eesi. You can reach him at andrewgrandahl@gmail.com