Thomas Friedman is a huge proponent of technology and entrepreneurship as drivers in the solution to climate change. He’s also very clear headed when it comes to the revolutions, wars and conflicts that are rocking many corners of our planet. So when he began connecting the two, we paid attention. Now, even the Pentagon is talking about climate change’s role in ratcheting up the tension in our world’s most unstable societies.
Spurred on by the need to maintain flexible and dependable fuel sources in hostile foreign lands, the U.S. military has been an early adopter of renewable energy technologies. Incorporating the social and natural resource stresses of climate change was a logical addition to the military’s ongoing threat analyses— a 2010 DOD report cited climate change and energy security as triggers for “prominent military vulnerabilities.”
The most recent 2014 Pentagon report is reframing climate change as an “immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages,” according to the New York Times. Before his November 2014 resignation, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed the importance of the report’s findings at international defense meetings: loss of glaciers will lead to strained water supplies, intensifying hurricanes will produce regional instability, and droughts and crop failures can lead to mass migrations.
The report calls for higher-level strategic thinking around climate change’s influence on high-risk regions, and for further analysis on the role climate change has had in the rise of extremist groups. The highest-profile example of this effect is Syria, where climate change-exacerbated droughts lead to forced relocation, and to disenfranchised youth joining extremist groups. With climate change putting the squeeze on even the most basic necessities like water, the military reports that groups like ISIS are now grabbing natural resources in a bid to bolster their local power and influence. Taking a look at our own country, the report cites vulnerability of military bases to climate change-heightened flooding.
The major upshot here is that Chuck Hagel— who played a crucial role as a Republican Senator in blocking the US from signing on to the world’s first climate change treaty (Kyoto Protocol) in 1997— became an outspoken advocate of taking immediate and comprehensive action to address climate change. The fact alone that the military is calling for direct action is proof that climate change is an issue that transcends all stereotypical boundaries of interest and is yet another reason why our policy makers need to take action.