by Judith Curry
The military frames those efforts in terms of saving money and reducing its dependence on vulnerable supply lines, not dealing with climate change, but the result is the same.
Several months ago, I read the report National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, written by the CNA Military Advisory Board consisting retired Generals and Admirals. From the Foreword:
When it comes to thinking through long-term global challenges, none are more qualified than our most senior military leaders. Not only do they have decades of experience managing risk and responding to conflict on the battlefield, but they are also experts in geopolitical analysis and longrange strategic planning.
Military leaders typically look at challenges with imperfect or conflicting information. Despite not having 100 percent certainty, they weigh the consequences of various courses of action—including the consequences of no action—and make informed decisions based on their experience and risk forbearance.
The update serves as a bipartisan call to action. It makes a compelling case that climate change is no longer a future threat—it is taking place now.
From a letter to the reader:
The nature and pace of observed climate changes—and an emerging scientific consensus on their projected consequences—pose severe risks for our national security. During our decades of experience in the U.S. military, we have addressed many national security challenges, from containment and deterrence of the Soviet nuclear threat during the Cold War to political extremism and transnational terrorism in recent years. The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced.
When I read this, I yawned. They seem highly confident of climate model projections, and more confident than WG2 that human-caused climate change (rather than natural climate variability) is causing these problems. I expected better, since military leaders are experts at assessing risks and making decisions with imperfect or conflicting information.
It seems that current reality of Pentagon thinking on climate change is more interesting than the CNA Report. Bloomberg has an intriguing article The Pentagon’s war against climate change. Excerpts (JC bold):
U.S. conservatives make at least two arguments against action on climate change: We don’t have enough conclusive evidence to prove it is happening, and even if we did, the cost of cutting our carbon emissions would be too high. The U.S. military has been quietly rebutting both those arguments.
Start with the issue of uncertainty. Rather than endlessly debate whether climate change was real and would worsen, the military made a priority of dealing with it starting in 2010. It’s protecting naval bases against flooding, using less water in areas prone to drought and preparing for more power failures. The result is that bases use less electricity and are better able to withstand extreme weather.
“We look for indicators, warnings, reasons to take actions that are prudent,” said Dennis McGinn, the Navy’s assistant secretary for energy, installations and environment, at a congressional hearing in May. The alternative is “to completely place a bet on one particular certainty happening.”
The Department of Defense has also demonstrated that cutting carbon emissions can be done sensibly. It’s using more alternatives to oil, making its vehicles more efficient and designing lighter-weight equipment. It’s getting more employees to work remotely, more often. It has gotten rid of unnecessary vehicles, and replaced more of those that were left with smaller vehicles or ones run on electricity. And it has issued stricter energy standards for new buildings.
Its efforts matter because they underscore two principles crucial to the debate over climate policy. The first is that old habits can change, quickly, and without compromising performance. If the U.S. military can reduce its carbon footprint without sacrificing its mission of protecting the country, it’s worth asking whether dire warnings about the costs of reducing carbon emissions in the broader economy are overblown. The second lesson is that it’s folly to wait for perfect information on climate change.
Of course, unlike the military, the federal government can’t impose wide-scale changes by decree; it needs to win public support. That starts with convincing voters not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that the costs of action don’t need to be crushing.
The U.S. military is rejecting optimal decision making (betting on one particularly certainty happening) in favorrobust decision making, and climate informed decision analysis [link], which IMO is the most sensible way to deal with challenges surrounding climate change. Deal with your most pressing problems, and see if considerations of climate change suggest prudent actions. The military wisely warns against placing all of your bets on the certainty of one specific thing happening.
The Bloomberg article addresses scaling up to U.S. climate policy more broadly. The fundamental underlying principle of what the military is doing is to address small local problems of vulnerability to extreme weather events, economic issues, and issues of resources supplies. This approach is in keeping with the adaptive governance approach, which is fundamentally decentralized. Success in addressing overall climate policy goals would be the accumulation of many small achievements. It is not clear what U.S. federal policy can do that would encourage/support adaptive governance (other than perhaps to get out of the way).
And finally, some reflection on the differences between the CNA Report and the military strategies reflected in the Bloomberg article. The difference between retired, more academic generals versus those with boots on the ground trying to solve real problems?