Politics & Policy

Warring against Warming

A WC-130J with the 53rd Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters.” (Photo: Staff Sergeant Manuel J. Martinez)
The Obama administration marshals its military might against climate change.

‘We’re in a very dangerous period,” former vice president Dick Cheney said in a recent interview, “and I think it’s more threatening than the period before 9/11.” Islamic State terrorists beheading Americans, Iranian mullahs charging up centrifuges, Putin rattling his shasqua — dangerous times, indeed. So naturally the Department of Defense thought Monday an appropriate time to release its “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap,” which outlines the U.S. military’s plan to fortify itself against the ravages of oncoming climate change.

The “Roadmap” points to climate change’s many potential threats to military operations: Coastal installations could face flooding from rising sea levels; wildfires and increased temperatures could hinder training activities; topographical changes might obstruct supply chains; more intense drought and famine could increase the need for humanitarian assistance; more severe weather might alter battlefield tactics. To confront those challenges, the department will “identity and assess the effects of climate change on the Department,” “integrate climate change considerations across the Department and manage associated risks,” and “collaborate with internal and external stakeholders on climate change challenges.” Whatever any of that means.

The New York Times write-up does its best to prop up the DOD plan by quoting George Washington University professor Marcus King, who claims that climate change might already be wreaking geopolitical havoc. According to King, climate change could be at least partly responsible for the rise of the Islamic State: “Climate change and water shortages may have triggered the drought that caused farmers to relocate to Syrian cities and triggered situations where youth were more susceptible to joining extremist groups.”

Environmental factors certainly influence geopolitics, but it seems fairly apparent that the remedy to the jihadist threat is weapons investment, not hardier seeds.

But the Department of Defense is simply tailoring its mission to mirror that of the president. Even the Times is frank on this point:

The Pentagon’s increased emphasis on the national security threats of climate change is aimed in part at building support for a United Nations agreement, to be signed next year in Paris, that would require the world’s largest producers of planet-warming carbon pollution to slash their emissions, while increasing aid to help the world’s most vulnerable populations adapt to the effects of global warming.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent his Monday address at the Conference of Defense Ministers in South America pitching the plan.

Climate change has always been the president’s hobbyhorse — his nomination was, after all, supposed to be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” — so it is little surprise that, hamstrung at home and flailing abroad, he is flogging this issue, hoping it will distract from his otherwise crumbling agenda and give him the opportunity, before he leaves office, to restore to himself at least a touch of his 2008 grandeur.

The problem, of course, is that his vision of saving the planet from climate change distracts from more pressing tasks, such as saving it from the terrorists and tyrants who are spending their capital on weapons, not wind farms. The effects of decreased Arctic sea ice are difficult to predict. The plans of the Islamic State are not. But because it does not know how to deal with the latter, the White House has Chuck Hagel focusing the nation’s military on the former.

That said, no department of government should embrace the Boy Scout motto more vigorously than the Department of Defense. The security of the American people depends on the Pentagon’s preparations, and if the simulators want to throw bigger hurricanes and fiercer famines into their war games, that’s just fine. The problem is when extreme scenarios based on speculative science become the foundation of policy. There are many better things the Pentagon can be doing with its reduced budget than lifting coastline installations onto stilts on the off chance that the ice caps will melt.

One hopes that Secretary Hagel understands that, because the president does not seem to. If the world is burning, it has nothing to do with global warming.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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