DoD Study Warns: Climate Change Will Destroy Pentagon in 20 Years

April 25th, 2020 - by Yves Smith / NakedCapitalism & Farron Cousins / Ring of Fire

“Apocalypse Near”: Pentagon Warns Climate Change Could Cause US Military Collapse Within 20 Years

Yves Smith / NakedCapitalism

 (October 25, 2019) — The Pentagon has long been concerned about the threats climate change pose to stability and how it will lead to conflicts due to mass migration and even more intense competition for scarce resources. In the early 2000s, the military warned that climate change could induce large-scale deaths and migrations out of low-lying areas such as Bangladesh due to storms and flooding.

A recent look at the dangers climate change poses to US military operations, released over the summer by the Army War Collegewent virtually unnoticed despite offering “Apocalypse Near” scenarios a mere 20 years out. And it isn’t just that very bad things are in the offing; the report finds that “the Department of Defense (DoD) is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.”

We found out about this document only as a result of an article in Vice flagged by resilc. We’ve embedded the document at the end of the post and strongly urge you to read it in full. Or if you want Cliff Notes versions, see The Center for Climate and Security or the Vice piece

The report sees the lack of potable water as a serious limitation on US military operations, which it anticipates will be overtaxed due to destabilizing climate-change induced mass migrations abroad, combined with domestic Jackpot-level threats of an overtaxed, decrepit electrical grid; diseases; and drought and potential crop failures. 

Vice gives a good high-level recap:

The report paints a frightening portrait of a country falling apart over the next 20 years due to the impacts of climate change on “natural systems such as oceans, lakes, rivers, ground water, reefs, and forests.”

Current infrastructure in the US, the report says, is woefully underprepared: “Most of the critical infrastructures identified by the Department of Homeland Security are not built to withstand these altered conditions.”

Some 80 percent of US agricultural exports and 78 percent of imports are water-borne. This means that episodes of flooding due to climate change could leave lasting damage to shipping infrastructure, posing “a major threat to US lives and communities, the US economy and global food security,” the report notes.

Notice that its timing is very similar to what we’ve repeatedly said: that potable water is the world’s most scarce natural resource, and it will come under stress by 2050 (we’re seeing it sooner in places like Cape Town). And even though water is theoretically recyclable and non-potable water can be made into potable water, that comes at an energy cost as well as other environmental damage (for instance, the not-trivial problem of salt disposal with desalination).

What is striking is the language and scenarios are at Defcon2 levels. The document stresses it has no ideological point of view about climate change and based its forecasts on what it depicted as mainstream work. And it pointed out that climate change is already happening.

The first major threat it identifies is mass migration. Here is the second, which is less well recognized, from the executive summary:

Saltwater intrusion into coastal areas and changing weather patterns will also compromise or eliminate fresh water supplies in many parts of the world. Additionally, warmer weather increases hydration requirements. This means that in expeditionary warfare, the Army will need to supply itself with more water. This significant logistical burden will be exacerbated on a future battlefield that requires constant movement due to the ubiquity of adversarial sensors and their deep strike capabilities.

This is quite the admission:

The US Army is precipitously close to mission failure concerning hydration of the force in a contested arid environment. The experience and best practices of the last 17 years of conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa rely heavily on logistics force structures to support the warfighter with water mostly procured through contracted means of bottled water, local wells and Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPU).

The Army must reinvest aggressively in technologies both in-house and commercial off the shelf in the next 5-10 years to keep pace with rising global temperatures, especially those arid areas in or poised for conflict. The Army must seek partnerships with industry, other nations, and other militaries currently working on the hydration issue.

While the report does not tease out all the implications, salt water intrusion will be another driver of mass migrations, not only due to its impact on potable water but also on fishing and farming. And of course, that plus sea level rises and more frequent storms will also threaten and even cripple existing US installations, although that risk isn’t immediate.

Of course, there’s no mention of how the US military is a big greenhouse gas emitter; the article blandly notes, “The DoD does not currently possess an environmentally conscious mindset.” To its credit, the report does make changing that a top priority for the Army. It takes a “get on the bus or you’ll be under the bus” perspective:

As the electorate becomes more concerned about climate change, it follows that elected officials will, as well. This may result in significant restrictions on military activities (in peacetime) that produce carbon emissions.

On the mass migration front, the report suggests planning for a Bangladesh-level disaster, and point out that drought was a major impetus for the conflict in Syria, with refugees from Iraq increasing pressure, which resulted in the exodus of 5 million Syrians out of a pre-war population of 22 million. Bangladesh has over eight times as many people and sits in a conflict-prone area with nuclear powers on either side.

But the report also foresees that the military could be overwhelmed by domestic demands, particularly due to our crap infrastructure, namely that the aging electrical grid will face higher demands as wider-ranging temperatures = more power use. The fact that this report is considering “collapse” as a possibility is telling:

Effects of climate abnormalities over time introduce the possibility of taxing an already fragile system through increased energy requirements triggered by extended periods of heat, drought, cold, etc. If the power grid infrastructure were to collapse, the United States would experience significant

  • Loss of perishable foods and medications
  • Loss of water and wastewater distribution systems
  • Loss of heating/air conditioning and electrical lighting systems
  • Loss of computer, telephone, and communications systems (including airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services)
  • Loss of public transportation systems
  • Loss of fuel distribution systems and fuel pipelines
  • Loss of all electrical systems that do not have back-up power

The caliber of the US response to power failure in Puerto Rico should give pause to the idea that the military is able do much to help.

A rise in insect-borne disease is another potential demand overseas and even here. While the report contends the US military has capabilities that enable them to help, I’m skeptical. And if a highly infectious disease emerges and spreads, it’s hard to imagine that any place in the world has the social cohesion and the public health system to respond well.

The Steven Soderbergh movie Contagion was the feel-good version of what would happen if a virulent pathogen got loose. It’s hard to think that people in America would accept a quarantine or line up politely to collect food rations.

There is also considerable discussion of the threats and opportunities posed by the de-icing of the Arctic.

Finally, please do read the report before coming to conclusions about what it means for the possibility of operations in the US. The analysis by implication sees the military as asked to help in the event of a sustained domestic disaster, like a large-scale electrical grid failure or a disease outbreak. It does not contemplate domestic violence. However, it’s not hard to see the possibility of martial law if the trajectory is as dire as this analysis suggests.

Pentagon Warns Of Military Collapse If Climate Change Isn’t Taken Seriously

Farron Cousins / Ring of Fire

 (November 16, 2019) — The Pentagon is once again warning the country about the risks of climate change, this time saying that the military will be unable to handle the effects of climate change in as little as 20 years if we don’t start addressing the crisis now.

The looming threat of resource scarcity, mass migration, and natural disasters will create a world that the military simply cannot handle, leading to the collapse of the military, according to the Pentagon. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this.


Recently, the US military released a new report that they had commissioned on the threat that climate change poses to the military itself. Now again, this report was commissioned by the Pentagon and like every other Pentagon report on this issue since 2006 the Pentagon tells us that we’re in deep trouble when it comes to climate change, but more specifically within the next 20 years, this report says we could be looking at the collapse of the US military because of climate change and all of the things that brings with it the collapse of the United States military. Now that is a phrase that doesn’t even sound possible, right?

We spend more on our military than any other country in the world. We spend more on our military than the countries behind us combined. So how could it be that our military could be overwhelmed by something to the point of collapse while the Pentagon spells it out very clearly, you’ve got climate change that’s going to bring blackouts, disease, thirst, starvation, and war.

You have 600 million people. The report tells us who live at sea level or even on the coast and within the next 20 to 60 years, they’re going to have to find a new place to live. If we do not address climate change, we don’t know where they’re going to go. We can’t handle that massive influx of people across our borders.

Other countries really can’t handle that either. So what are we going to do? And then if they do all mass migrate to certain areas around the globe, they’re not all obviously going to the same place, but then they fight for resources and that breeds war.

This is something the Pentagon’s been telling us for well over a decade now. Resource scarcity breeds conflict. All of human history has proven that and yet we right now are slow marching towards that because we just don’t want to take action as a country, as a planet really.

Now, this is not meant to discourage or downplay the role that scientists and activists have played in climate change. But I have to say this, we as a country, as a government have done nothing with regards to climate change. And that’s what the Pentagon is trying to tell us. We’re not doing anything.

Now again, we’ve got brilliant scientists out there warning us, beating the drum, constantly saying, here’s the problem. There’s still time to fix it, so let’s do it. We have activists saying, let’s do this . . . .

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