Why is the military more progressive than Congress when it comes to climate change?

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

The U.S. military is very concerned about climate change.

So concerned, in fact, that in the last few months it has: 1) issued a report detailing how climate change is a "threat multiplier" to issues of international security, 2) drawn a link between historic droughts in the world's wheat growing regions and current global unrest, and 3) tied military stipulations into the landmark climate change accord reached by the U.S. and China.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has also emerged as a worldwide leader in green technologies of the last few years, an important shift considering that it is also one of the world's largest polluters.

Compare these developments to certain Washington politicians who have been slow to share the military's concern for climate change. One Senator even made headlines earlier this week for apparently admitting that human-caused climate change is real.


Though this disconnect has existed since the early 1990s the schism between politicians (mostly Republicans) and the military on the issue of climate change has never been more stark.

As recently as May, House Republicans passed an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would forbid the Department of Defense (DoD) from spending money on any climate-related initiatives, including planning programs. The amendment, which failed to pass through a Democratic-controlled Senate, is directly at odds with the reality that the DoD's says it needs to prepare for.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

"Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict," Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wrote in the preface to the DoD's planning report released last month.


"They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe," he said. "We are already beginning to see some of these impacts."

The split between the two camps boils down to different approaches to problem solving. For its part, the military takes a global, forward-looking perspective. This requires juggling around many variables and projection models (which are largely out of its own control) to prepare for all possible outcomes. In a sense, it admits the science is not steadfast, while acknowledging that preparing for the worst is the responsible thing to do.


Many Republicans, on the other hand, appear to want an absolute consensus on the causes of global warming before being moved to action. "I am not a scientist," they say when asked to discuss the science.

The military has largely moved on from the scientific debate.  "Speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty," retired Army General Gordon Sullivan said in a Military Advisory Board report issued earlier this year. "If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”


With a newly elected Republican-majority Senate on its way in over the next few months, it seems all the more important for the DoD and mainstream conservatives to get on the same page. When the silly amendment barring military spending on climate-related initiatives failed, it largely did so on the strength of a Democratic-majority Senate. In a few months, the DoD and its plans for national security will no longer have that political backstop.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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