US military 'precariously unprepared' for climate change, warns report

US military 'precariously unprepared' for climate change, warns report
(Getty Images)

The US military is “precariously unprepared” for the implications of climate change and the subsequent global security challenges, warns a report. 

Stating that the Army has thrived despite a culture of “environmental oblivion” that exists within the force, the report, Implications of climate change for the US Army by United States Army War College, says the conditions may no longer favor this tendency. 

“What is the current perception of the US Army, the US military, or the US government as a steward of the environment? We have no good data on this question. Anecdotally, the US government is perceived to be an irresponsible actor in the global environment. The US withdrawal from the Paris accords elicited strong reactions in the developed world. By contrast, although China is the largest carbon-emitting nation, it has been more thoughtful about how it projects its image globally with respect to carbon emissions, and Chinese clean energy initiatives have been widely publicized in the US,” says the report.

It further says, “Current public discourse about climate change and its impacts are often rancorous and politically charged. As an organization that is, by law, non-partisan, the Department of Defense (DoD) is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.

The officials, who wrote the report, include experts from the US Army National Guard, US Army, US Army War College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, NASA HARVEST Consortium, US Air Force, Princeton University and US Defense Intelligence Agency.


Calling the Army an “environmental disaster,” the experts say the military is not an environment-friendly organization. “Frankly, it is not designed to be. For good reasons, the Army focuses on the most effective means to dominate an enemy on the battlefield. However, in the course of this endeavor, the turbine engines that power helicopters and tanks burn thousands of pounds of JP-8 fuel per hour. Every time one of those turbine engines is shut off, almost a pint of jet fuel is dumped overboard onto the ground. The munitions used in training rain lead and explosive residue into range complexes across the country,” says the report. 

It further says, “Armored vehicles churn up the soil in maneuver areas and contribute to erosion and sediment runoff into streams. In myriad offices across the force, thousands of pages of powerpoint presentations are printed off every day, simply to be thrown away after the briefing. In short, the Army is an environmental disaster. Incidentally, this makes the Army a likely target of social mobilization.


Calling the Army an “environmental disaster,” the experts say that the military is not an environment-friendly organization. (Getty Images)

The report details the most imminent threats climate change poses to national security. Sea-level rise, changes in water and food security and more frequent extreme weather events are likely to result in the migration of large segments of the population. Rising seas will displace tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people, creating massive, enduring instability, say officials. This migration, says the report, will be most pronounced in those regions where climate vulnerability is exacerbated by weak institutions and governance and underdeveloped civil society. More frequent extreme weather events, say experts, will also increase demand for military humanitarian assistance.

Stating that saltwater intrusion into coastal areas and changing weather patterns will also compromise or eliminate freshwater supplies in many parts of the world, the report states that additionally, warmer weather increases hydration requirements. This, say experts, implies 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,” it says. 

The report says globally, over 600 million people live at sea level, and sealevel rise poses a direct threat to Army/ Department of Defense (DoD) installations and missions worldwide. “The DoD must assess the vulnerabilities to installations and risks to the mission at all locations, prioritizing those most at risk. Early recognition of the complex risks will allow planning and implementation to best mitigate the risk and spread costs out over multiple budgetary periods," says analysis.

Numerous climate models suggest that a warming climate incurs more frequent extreme weather events and intensified weather patterns such as heat domes, polar vortices, superstorms, monster ridges, and wider ranges of extremes, especially in spring and fall in temperate climates. The experts say that the US Army is directly affected by these extremes, and has obligations connected to disaster recovery efforts related to a changing climate. 

“Not only are Army personnel and installations at risk, the issue compounds when more than one major event occurs in a short interval or where a natural disaster occurs where local social, political, and economic infrastructures are not resourced to handle the situation,” it says.


Numerous climate models suggest that a warming climate incurs more frequent extreme weather events and intensified weather patterns such as heat domes, polar vortices, superstorms, monster ridges, and wider ranges of extremes, especially in spring and fall in temperate climates. The experts say that the US Army is directly affected by these extremes. (Getty Images)

The analysis says that a warming trend will also increase the range of insects that are vectors of infectious tropical diseases. This, coupled with large-scale human migration from tropical nations, will increase the spread of infectious diseases. “The Army has tremendous logistical capabilities, unique in the world, in working in austere or unsafe environments. In the event of a significant infectious disease outbreak (domestic or international), the Army is likely to be called upon to assist in the response and containment,” it says.

The team says attention to a changing climate remains integral to the Army’s preparation and the response of devastating weather events like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“Hurricane Michael in 2018 was the wettest hurricane on record, reflecting a more general trend of windier and wetter hurricanes. Natural disasters like these will continue to draw in Army and other DoD resources,” says the report.


The decrease in Arctic sea ice and associated sea-level rise will bring conflicting claims to newly accessible natural resources. It will also introduce a new theater of direct military contact between an increasing belligerent Russia and other Arctic nations, including the US Yet the opening of the Arctic will also increase commercial opportunities, says experts. “Increased economic activity will drive a requirement for increased military expenditures specific to that region. In short, competition will increase,” says experts.  They recommend that the Army and the DoD must begin planning and implementing changes to training, equipment, doctrine and capabilities in anticipation of an expanded role in the Arctic associated with global climate adaptation.

The team says the increased likelihood of more intense and longer duration drought in some areas, accompanied by greater atmospheric heating, will put an increased strain on the aging US power grid and further spur large scale human migration elsewhere. Power generation, they add, in US hydroelectric and nuclear facilities will be affected. “This dual attack on both supply and demand could create more frequent, widespread and enduring power grid failures, handicapping the US economy,” says the analysis.

In addition to these changing environmental conditions that will contribute to a changing security environment, climate change will likely also result in social, political, and market pressures that may profoundly affect the Army’s (and DoD’s) activities. 

“The DoD does not currently possess an environmentally conscious mindset. Political and social pressure will eventually force the military to mitigate its environmental impact in both training and wartime. Implementation of these changes will be costly in effort, time, and money. This is likely to occur just as the DoD is adjusting to changes in the security environment highlighted (in the report)," says the study.

Stating that the energy and pollution practices of the US military have been subject to less scrutiny both domestically and abroad and have not yet risen to the level of urgency of other issues such as sexual assault, the experts say that as environmental and security concerns increasingly overlap, the international perception of the US as an irresponsible actor could have serious implications for the US military, which relies on allies to maintain its global posture. 

“The US military depends on access to the bases and ports of allies; it enjoys flyover privileges and other preferential treatment. All of this exists because allies see the US as aligned with their core interests. In the core powers of Europe, in the Commonwealth countries, in Japan, and elsewhere, social mobilization due to perceived climate change has the potential to create a fundamental misalignment between the US and its key allies. The US may find itself more internationally isolated than at any time since its repudiation of the League of Nations,” says the team.

In light of their findings, the experts recommend that the military must consider changes in doctrine, organization, equipping, and training to anticipate changing environmental requirements. 

“Greater inter-governmental and inter-organizational cooperation, mandated through formal framework agreements, will allow the DoD to anticipate those areas where future conflict is more likely to occur and to implement a campaign-plan-like approach to proactively prepare for likely conflict and mitigate the impacts of mass migration,” they added.

The research team calls on the Department of Defense to “promulgate a culture of environmental stewardship” across the force. Lagging behind public and political demands for energy efficiency and minimal environmental footprint will significantly ‘hamstring’ the Department’s efforts to face national security challenges, they add.

“The Department will struggle to maintain its positive public image, and that will impact the military’s ability to receive the required funding to face the growing number of security challenges,” the findings state.


Share this article:

 US Military Underprepared Climate Change hurricane disease