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The case for going into war against climate change
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The case for going into war against climate change

A man in military camo walks through a sandstorm in Iraq


A man in military camo walks through a sandstorm in IraqIraq sandstorm. Image by David Mark at Pixabay

I became a climate activist early in 2019, focusing on issues that were at the forefront of popular discourse: cars, coal, agriculture, and construction. I also Shipping addressed, because my hometown, Hamburg in the north of Germany, is home to one of Europe’s biggest ports. Climate protests grew in size, reaching their peak at There are 1.4 million people living in Germany aloneThe discourse didn’t evolve at the same rate in September of that year. These basic facts are still being debated today. Solution implementation is still in its infancy. Even the long-awaited COP26 climate conference, Glasgow, did not bring about paradigmatic changes.

As a security analyst who has worked with soldiers from all backgrounds, I find that the security perspective is often missing from the discourse. Security professionals such as myself must now fully understand the climate crisis and how we can help it. It directly intersects with our core purpose.

Security is what this is all for. We are not protecting our climate. We are protecting ourselves.

The British military’s Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic ApproachThe following was published in March. Reports by the US intelligence agencyThese charts, released in October, give a glimpse at how climate change will affect national security as well as what defense agencies should do. Yet, despite this increasing awareness, many security personnel are still not taking the necessary steps to address climate change. Its impact on their work will be so severe that they cannot afford to stop moving forward until politicians do. They must acknowledge the severity of the threat and advocate for the appropriate responses.

I do not ask my colleagues—in or out of uniform—to join climate activists in the streets, though they are very welcome to do so. But security professionals must reframe today’s hand-waving about climate and treat it as a military-style threat that requires immediate and decisive action.

A US Army soldier atop a military vehicle in a street flooded by Hurricane Harvey
US Army personnel helped with disaster relief during Hurricane Harvey. Image by andrewtheshrew, Pixabay

The climate-security link.2020 was the year I saw my first spotting. Helicopters from the US National GuardCalifornia wildfires: Helping people Australian Navy vesselsConducting amphibious evacuations of bushfire-ravaged beaches inspired me to connect my perspective as a climate activist with my work and education within the security field.

Climate security is a subfield within security studies Its roots can be traced back as far as the 1970sHowever, it received little recognition until after ending the Cold War. That’s because the threat of nuclear annihilation dwarfed everything else.

BulletinThe conventional wisdom that a conflict between nuclear powers is the most dangerous possible scenario is well-known to readers. Observers of rising tensions between China & the United States, including me, tend to take every warhead, submarine, strategic bomber, or new warhead very seriously. We also invest time and effort in understanding the nuances.

With China’s ever-increasing pressure on Taiwan, and a Heated debate among Western scholarsPoliticians debate whether Taiwan’s defense would justify it being made a state. casus belliThe Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the United States of America, Australia, India, Japan, and Japan), NATO, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the United Kingdom trilateral security pact (Australian, United Kingdom, and the United States), and any other force against China are all reintroduced and now overshadow a much greater danger.

The dangers of a war between great-power nations, however real, remain hypothetical until the first shots can be fired. On the other hand, carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing day by day. They are closely monitored but remain unchecked. This is not due to a lack of information, but because of a lack of leadership and willpower. This is the dilemma of securitizing climate change—of making a security community that for the last 20 years fought a global war on terror and was busy watching China aware that it missed something big.

This year saw heat records being broken and extensive destruction from extreme weather. Humanity’s desperate clinging to every drop of fossil fuel not only increases the These tragedies are frequent and intense.This not only ensures greater ones in the future, but it also makes them more affordable.

Some laughed at Greta Thunberg when she used the metaphor of humanity’s house on fire. Some thought she exaggerated. Few laugh as communities from California to Siberia and Turkey to Australia helplessly watch as fires devour everything in sight.

A military mentality. Prince Charles will be in 2020 , “We must now put ourselves on a warlike footing, approaching our action from the perspective of a military-style campaign.” More recently, John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, the world needs a “wartime mentality” to fight climate change. They weren’t The firstThey are on the right track, though.

Leaders could have reduced global warming while there was still time to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures. Their negligence led us to today’s predicament: a civilization that cannot function without fossil fuels and the massive exploitation of nature, which in turn threaten the very existence of civilization.

Instead of giving in to the feeling of helplessness, we need another mindset. A military mentality that can make uncomfortable but strategic decisions—based on ends, ways, and means, for the security of us all—and that can deploy in an effective way the resources at our disposal is the sensible approach.

Some of history’s largest investments were made for security. Because political leaders realized they were facing existential threats, the United States of America, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and their allies had to reorient their entire economies in order to fight World War II. The world faces existential threats today, but the political leaders have not responded to this challenge. Multiple voices have pleaded for a Climate effort similar to Manhattan Project. I believe that idea has failed because it suggests an escape route—a miraculous technology that might change everything and allow for continued delay on climate action. The Manhattan Project analogy highlights the enormity of the effort required.

But for such a massive effort to be put in motion, state-level actors would need to treat climate change as a security issue—the same way they treat war. This can be done by rhetorical escalation that preempts “Discourses on climate delay” and emphasizes the non-negotiability of the threat. Climate change can be treated with the urgency, gravity, and resources it needs once it is established as a threat that could lead to war.

The US recently released National Intelligence Estimate for climate change, Defense Department climate risk analysis, Department of Homeland Security climate action plans, Special White House report about climate migrationThey do not contain any new information, but they demonstrate that climate change is happening. Has taken a new position in the current administration’s security considerations. However, it is not being considered a war-like threat.

The US Army was able to take advantage of the Trump administration even though it was under Trump. significant initiatives to securitize climate change, yet many current observers and actors within the field still focus on how climate change will affect the military’s traditional patterns of deployment. They ask: “How can a security apparatus prepare for increased migration?” or “Where does climate change create new vulnerabilities for our forces?” Few consider the role of the US, Chinese, and other armed forces as some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emittersThese numbers are even lower than those for the military, which is not expected to prevent global warming exceeding the limits set forth by the Paris Agreement.

Rethinking security. Millions of soldiers worldwide identify themselves as security providers. As time is running out and government bureaucracies becoming a problem, defense agencies need to take the initiative in redefining climate change as a security concern, a war-like threat that has already started. It is essential that society accepts the installation of a panel solar by an army technician as a security feature. This is not to replace civilian initiatives, but to complement them with the military’s powerful workforce, equipment, and strategic thinking. It is not meant to take away soldiers’ role as fighters; it is to give them the extra dimension they need in certain circumstances.

To simplify: It’s not whether your tank has better air conditioning but what the military domain can accomplish in the areas research, development and logistics as well as personnel to increase the security of the population.

Security professionals cannot afford climate denial. They must see climate change in terms of the threat to their country’s people, stability, prosperity, territorial integrity, and population. Many of the officers I’ve spoken with, from various nationalities and backgrounds, already understand the magnitude of the climate threat. It is difficult to maintain combat readiness while your helicopters are evacuating civilians and military installations from wildfires, when your army engineers are building bridges across flood rivers, and when your soldiers are digging sandbags to stop the flow of water, not bullets.

The resources currently being committed to maintaining and containing conflicts between great nations—which, not coincidentally, are also the biggest polluters—are the resources that are now required elsewhere to mitigate the climate crisis. We won’t be able fight another day without them.


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