Even soldiers are getting ready for climate change : what are politicians waiting for ?
While Donald Trump treats global warming as a joke and claims it was invented by the Chinese to undermine the competitiveness of US companies, the reality of climate change has found an unlikely advocate : the military ! Indeed armies all around the world are forced to factor in climate change as it is altering the physical features of the fields where armed forces are used. Furthermore climate change is also seen by military staff as a major geopolitical threat and analysts anticipate that many future conflicts will be caused by it. So really, the armies around the world have already accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and have started to adjust to the changes that climate disruption will cause throughout the world ! If only the insane amounts of money that are being invested to adapt armies to a changing climate were used instead... to prevent the climate change !
Climate change is making the seas to warm for British warships[edit | edit source]
One of the most telling examples of the shift in army strategy is sea warfare. The rise in sea temperatures is starting to be a problem for army ships. In a parliamentary hearing at the beginning of June, the British MPs were astonished to learn that the UK's newest and most expensive destroyers were ineffective in the Persian Gulf because the water was too warm ! These Type 45 destroyers each cost $1 billion but can't handle water temperatures that exceed 90 degrees fahrenheit. The Royal Navy staff informed the Parliament that the turbines of the destroyers overheat because the ship can't cool them fast enough in the waters of the Gulf. Is this just an industrial blunder, albeit a very expensive one ? Perhaps not. When asked to explain why its product wasn't working, the director of Rolls-Royce's naval program, Tomas Leahy, answered that the turbine engine delivered met the specification issued by the Ministry of Defense : “Are the conditions in the Gulf in line with that specification? No they are not, so the equipment is having to operate in far more arduous conditions than initially required by that specification.” In other words, the Ministry of Defense hadn't anticipated that the ships would need to cruise in waters so warm. And who can blame them ? The normal range of temperatures in the Persian Gulf is 75 °F to 90°F and the ships would have been fine if the temperatures had stayed within that range. But that's the funny thing about global warming and climate change, the weather is becoming more and more erratic. And shallow sea areas like the Persian Gulf (or the Mediterranean Sea !) tend to warm up very quickly when the weather is exceptionally hot like in 2016. So to the billion dollar destroyers stuck in the middle of the Persian Gulf because the engines failed, global warming is a very tangible reality ! And the issue of climate change is also affecting other kinds of warfare.
Record high temperatures are a new challenge for armed operations[edit | edit source]
Rising temperatures are also an increasingly big problem for land and air armed forces. When the U.S decided to conduct its mindless war in Iraq in april 2003, American soldiers already experienced the difficulty of fighting in very hot weather. The temperatures rose to 90 to 100°F and forced the U.S to adapt. Indeed the protective gear of the soldiers adds to the heat : the body armour and the nylon and cotton suits protecting the soldiers against biological or chemical attacks both pile another 5 to 10 °F on. This can lead to a range of heat-related illnesses. Under these conditions, the soldiers sweat on average a pint an hour and must therefore drink vast amounts to avoid dehydration. This means giving more water for the soldiers. Usually, they receive about four gallons for drinking and washings but when the weather is so hot they get 6.5 gallons of water instead. They also work shorter hours. Temperatures above 90°F call for what the army calls “heat condition black”, a regime under which heavy work is limited to 5 hours a day and shifts only last 20 minutes with 40 minutes of rest. So the heat causes many organisational challenges because of its effect on the soldiers. But it also creates material difficulties. The various equipment used by the army heats up and needs to be cooled down which requires enormous amounts of power. More importantly, helicopters fly less efficiently because of the hot air and may become useless in combat. And when your military might is based on the modernity of your weapons, you kinda want them to work properly when you need them to... Anyway the war in Iraq was a good sign that hot temperatures are indeed a challenge for modern armies. But wait, those temperatures were nothing compared to the ones experienced in the Middle East last summer. In August 2015, the temperatures rose above 120°F for several days in Iran and Iraq ! If the U.S army was hard-pressed to fight in 2003 when the temperatures were at least 20°F lower, imagine what it would be in the kind of heat of the summer of 2015 ! Indeed the politicians shouting for an intervention in the Middle East truly have no idea of what it would be like to fight in that kind of weather. And of course they also have no clue what the consequences of the intervention would be but that's another matter. This all shows us that rising temperatures are a challenge to armies because it's harder to fight in extreme temperatures and they are becoming more and more frequent.
Climate change is a challenge to the organization of army activities[edit | edit source]
But climate change isn't only a problem for armies abroad, it's also a huge issue for military activities at home. For instance, the training grounds of the U.S army have been altered by climate change effects within the last few years. In Alaska, live-fire training has been restricted because of the risk of fires. Indeed the forest fire season is getting longer and longer under the influence of rising temperature. And practising one's artillery skills is probably one of the best ways to start a wildfire. Climate change also creates more erratic weather and extreme weather episodes. In August 2013, the training area of Fort Irwin in California suffered extensive damage because of heavy rainfall. The structure is located in the Mojave desert so the rain is usually very rare. But it started raining very hard and because the earth was so dry, it was unable to absorb the rainwater and this lead to a 15 feet high flood. This caused damages costing $64 million and disrupted the training of Fort Irwin. Oh, and last but not least, the U.S army is realizing that many of its bases are located in areas directly threatened by the rise of sea levels ! For instance the Hampton Roads area in Virginia is the home of the biggest concentration of American bases in the world and it is already experiencing frequent flooding today. Therefore the army is working on a plan to address the issue of the sea level rise. In this plan the anticipated rise is 1.5 feet in the next 20 to 50 years. These examples clearly illustrate the risks generated by climate change and the costs we will have to pay if we don't stop this process.
Climate change will increase the instability throughout the world[edit | edit source]
Finally, the military staff of the U.S now views climate change as a “significant threat to national security”. The first thing to conclude from this shift is that the U.S army recognizes that climate change is happening and that its effects will be important throughout the world. This view has gradually gained support and has become the official doctrine of the U.S army in 2014 when the Ministry of Defense released a report analyzing the new threats generated by climate change and how the U.S army should prepare itself to respond to these threats. According to the report, these new threats will stem from a stress on natural resources : “The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability.” And the consequences of these evolutions “could undermine already-fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently-stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources. These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.” Of course, one would expect the Pentagon to use every argument that can justify foreign interventions, it's basically its bread and butter. But it's quite significant that it is using the rhetoric of climate change to pursue that agenda. It means that even areas of government that can be seen as quite conservative are seeing that these changes are going to happen and that we must imperatively anticipate them. Even if the argument leads to a terrible conclusion – that the U.S must be ready to intervene more – its starting point is sound and we can only hope that for once, our policy makers will listen to their soldiers because they seem to have seen something that politicians haven't !