Using the Military-Industrial Complex to Fight Climate Change
While the world continues to go through its usual paces and people seem content to be glued to their smart phones, a looming threat to the world has appeared on the horizon: climate change. Does that sound exaggerated and alarmist to you? It is possible that your unfavorable reaction to that statement is the normalcy bias in you making an appearance. Normalcy bias is the tendency for people to underestimate the possibility of a disaster, and the possible effects of that disaster, because it is so far outside what typically happens in “normal” life. It is the same bias that overcame the Japanese people when the United States detonated an atomic bomb in Hiroshima. They believed that because the bomb was so incredibly destructive that it could not have possibly originated from a man made device such as a bomb. They simply did not believe that the United States military had caused the destruction at Hiroshima so they did not surrender, leading to a second bombing at Nagasaki before they finally waved the white flag; at least that is the historical narrative.
Today in the United States of America and many other parts of the world, we are seeing millions of people react in the same way to warnings from environmental scientists as the Japanese reacted to the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Scientists from around the world are sounding the alarm and telling the rest of us that dramatic consequences are in store for the planet if carbon emissions are not curbed. These warnings vary from economic losses in the range of trillions of dollars, to millions of climate refugees moving across the globe and even the mass extinction of many of the animals on the planet. Because the scope of the environmental disaster on the horizon is so vast, many people simply believe that it is not going on.
For those of us in the West whose lives are so comfortable and free of the struggles of poverty, hunger, disease, war, famine and natural disaster, it is almost impossible for us to imagine such a disaster happening. Western society has been arranged in a way that makes the battle for survival almost nonexistent; and certainly, that is a wonderful accomplishment. However, like anything else there are strengths and weaknesses to this system and ones of those weaknesses is the propensity for normalcy bias and complacency in your average citizen. It is difficult for people to imagine a world where sea levels are ten feet higher and many coastal cities are now underwater as a result. Yet the fact remains that between 90 and 99 percent of all publishing climate scientists are in consensus that both climate change is occurring and that it is the result of man made activity.
It is somewhat remarkable that the energy lobby has been able to obfuscate the debate around this issue and confuse the public on its consensus; it speaks to the vast power the energy industry wields in our nation’s capital and the resources at their disposal. This obfuscation of the consensus on climate change is a serious issue. According to a 2003 report issued by the Pentagon, an abrupt change in climate poses a serious threat to national security by “destabilizing the geopolitical environment” . An abrupt change in climate could be brought about by a very large piece of Arctic or Antarctic ice shelf breaking loose and melting in the ocean, raising sea levels rapidly. While the energy lobby is doing everything it can to confuse people about the climate change consensus, our own defense and national security officials are telling us that climate change is a threat to our national security.
Still not convinced that climate change is a threat to national security? According to a report put out by Michael Brzsoska with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — an iconic non-academic journal that has been publishing since 1945 — citing the US National Security Strategy of May 2010,
“The danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe. The report continues, mentioning a judgment issued by the National Security Council in 2008 that says more than 30 United States military installations are already at increased risk from rising sea levels.”
To defense and security officials working for the United States, climate change being a threat to national security is not a new idea. The first mention of climate change being a threat to national security came in 1997 when the National Security Council stated, “Environmental threats such as climate change, ozone depletion, and the transnational movement of dangerous chemicals directly threaten the health of US citizens” . Yet in the 20 years that have passed since the National Security Council issued that statement, we have made little progress in addressing the situation or treating climate change as the threat that it is, and public opinion on the topic remains dubious at best with 30–40% of the population believing its causes are natural .
How do we as a nation convince this large minority of our population that climate change is a real national security threat? According to Sarah Light with the UCLA Law Review,
“Studies have shown that individuals with certain values or political ideologies are less likely to believe in the existence of scientific consensus about climate change, have positive attitudes toward addressing climate change as an urgent policy matter, and behave in ways that reduce energy use. Connecting climate change to national security risks and reduced fossil fuel use to strengthening the military can affect these individuals attitudes, beliefs, and behavior in these arenas.” 
This approach is brilliant. The political and social demographic that are inclined to not believe in the consensus on climate change are the same demographics that are fiercely loyal to the military and tend to follow the path that our armed forces set forth.
As I have laid out and made obvious, our military officials have indeed already connected climate change to national security; repeatedly, and for many years. The reason these national security-climate change connections have not reached the masses is that our government has put little to no effort into marketing them and making them known. Your average American is not reading policy reports from the Pentagon or statements issued from the National Security Council. What has become absolutely necessary is an extensive and sustained advertising campaign to the American people, informing them of the connections that climate change has to our national security and that switching the military over to renewable energy strengthens our military capability.
It stands to reason that once the connections between national security and climate change have been established with the American people and that our military and national security officials are taking this problem seriously, a large number of climate skeptics will change their positions and throw their support behind climate change policy. The demographic of people in America that deny that either climate change is occurring or that it is not man made, are highly politically active and have been obstructionist to climate readiness thus far. Their support is essential to passing climate change reform, strengthening the military by phasing them over to renewables, and deploying our military for national security threats posed by climate change.
The United States military can and should be deployed to combat climate change in any way, shape, or form that it is capable of. Since our government does not control policy for any country other than our own, the military is our primary vehicle to combat climate change beyond our own borders. Diplomacy often breaks down on the world stage when trying to enact climate change control measures through the United Nations or other international bodies, leaving the military as the most effective and able body to act against climate change and its effects. Furthermore, rising sea levels and the myriad of other threats the climate change poses are not threats to only the United States. They are threats to the entire world.
More than half of a billion people are exposed to rising sea levels and are at risk of losing their homes . In the past the President of the United States and other military officials have cited threats to global stability as reasons for invading another country and the pretext for war or economic sanctions. Why should this same foreign policy doctrine not also be applied to the numerous global threats that are posed by climate change? There is no reason for it not to be. The American military is the most diverse and well-equipped force on the planet and has numerous engineers from nearly every field within its ranks. Invading nations that are burning down millions of acres of forest and adding untold amounts of carbon to the atmosphere such as Indonesia, deploying engineers to figure out and implement mitigation strategies, providing relief to climate refugees in their home nations; these are just several ways that the military can be put to use to prevent global social order from breaking down as a result of the effects of climate change. If the United States does not effectively act to mitigate the impact of a warming planet it could very well face international pressure to take in millions of climate refugees as the crisis gets worse and massive numbers of people are displaced from their homes .
Ronald Reagan once said,
“Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world”.
While we are not facing an alien invasion the concept of the climate change crisis is the same; it is a threat to the entire world that has the potential to unite all of us against it. If this policy recommendations by the Pentagon, National Security Council and climatologists around the world were to be taken seriously we could be facing a new era of global peace and security as the world unites to combat this crisis and global collaboration takes place to innovate and create new technologies that make life for everyone on the planet better.
An essential part in making the United States pivot and change its current foreign policy is convincing the military-industrial complex to join in this fight. In the current order of the world, the United States acts as the global police force for disruptive and threatening countries that pose a threat to global stability in one way or another. In this system, the military-industrial complex of the United States lobbies members of congress to go to war in hopes of profiting from it. The bombs that are dropped, the firearms that are used, and the bullets that are fired from them are all manufactured by this military-industrial complex and they make billions of dollars from this process. If this system is looked at as an ally instead of an enemy, we would have some very powerful friends in this fight. By showing the companies that are involved in war manufacturing the resources that are going to be dedicated to combating climate change (a figure amounting to trillions of dollars) they could be persuaded to dedicate their own capabilities to research, mitigation, prevention, and restoration in hopes of massive profits. In turn, these companies would lobby members of the United States government just as they always have, to go to war against climate change. This lobby has proven to be extremely powerful and could be the deciding factor in using our military to preserve global stability.
The world faces a looming crisis in climate change. Like any crisis, it provides a massive opportunity for the betterment of humankind. The other side of that coin is that if the crisis is not taken seriously, and the worst in human nature reveals itself, civilization could be plunged into global chaos and instability and the course of human and natural history could be forever altered for the worse. If we can convince the remaining climate skeptics that climate change is a national security threat through a massive marketing campaign, then convince the military-industrial complex that they stand to make massive sums of money in developing solutions for the problem, and then deploy armed forces around the world to combat climate change, we could find ourselves in a new and better era of human history. It would be an era where technology and resources are no longer put into annihilating countries and killing people but instead put into making energy cheaper, more accessible, and healthier; where countries no longer compete against one another for resources but instead work together to develop technologies that make resource competition obsolete. The climate change crisis presents humanity with a unique opportunity to slingshot itself into a true global golden era. If we can focus on that potential instead of the gloom and doom of the situation, everything might just turn out alright.
- Schwartz, Peter, and Doug Randall. “An abrupt climate change scenario and its implications for United States national security.” CALIFORNIA INST OF TECHNOLOGY PASADENA CA JET PROPULSION LAB, 2003.
- Brzoska, Michael. “Climate Change and the Military in China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 68, no. 2, Mar. 2012, pp. 43–54.
- Hamilton, Lawrence C., et al. “Tracking Public Beliefs about Anthropogenic Climate Change.” Plos ONE, vol. 10, no. 10, 30 Sept. 2015, pp. 1–14.
- Light, Sarah E. “Valuing National Security: Climate Change, the Military, and Society.” UCLA Law Review, vol. 61, no. 6, Nov. 2014, pp. 1772–1812
- Greenfieldboyce, Nell. “Study: 634 Million People at Risk from Rising Seas.” NPR. 28 Mar. 2007.
- Colakoglu, Elif. “The Climate Change and Energy Security Nexus in the U.S.” Ataturk University Journal of Economics & Administrative Sciences, vol. 31, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 71–84.