Climate Change: A Military Imperative

Oct 21, 2014 8:00 AM ET

For many years, the Pentagon has issued reports about climate change, highlighting the future possible threats our nation may face from increased temperatures, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and rising sea levels. This week marked a notable change in the Pentagon’s approach—instead of addressing climate change as a distant danger, the Pentagon issued a report that clearly recognizes it as present-day threat to national and global security, requiring immediate and drastic action.

Previously, the military has focused the bulk of its climate action efforts on preparing military installations for climate change. Military bases have suffered their share of climate disaster, such as the repeated flooding of military installation in Virginia caused by rising sea levels, and the organization has responded accordingly to protect its facilities and infrastructure.

But the Defense Department is now broadening the scope of its climate efforts. In this week’s report, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated:

Among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change. 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. 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.
In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.