Pentagon Targets Climate Change


Drastic weather, rising seas and changing storm patterns could become “threat multipliers” for the United States, vastly complicating security challenges faced by American forces, the Pentagon said in a new report on the impact of climate change. (Washington Post)

Use our resources to learn more about climate change.

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Loss of infrastructure such as roads is one of the threats to national security identified by Secretary of State Chuck Hagel. Photograph courtesy NOAA
Loss of infrastructure such as roads is one of the threats to national security identified by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Photograph courtesy NOAA

Discussion Ideas

  • Scientists and diplomats have been discussing the threats posed by climate change for decades. Why is this new report any different than what they’ve been saying?
    • The report was issued by the U.S. Department of Defense. This is not an environmental or diplomatic response to climate change, this is a military threat assessment.


  • Secretary of Defense Hagel linked climate change to such military threats as terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty, food shortages, and increased demand for disaster relief. How do you think climate change contributes to these issues?
    • Terrorism. Experts have suggested how climate change may have made Syria more vulnerable to Islamic State (ISIS). “Climate change and water shortages may have triggered the drought that caused farmers to relocate to Syrian cities and triggered situations where youth were more susceptible to joining extremist groups,” said one expert to the New York Times. Read more about ISIS here.
    • Infectious Disease. According to our encyclopedic entry on climate change, “Some scientists think that as the Earth warms, tropical diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, and yellow fever will expand into more temperate regions.”
    • Global Poverty. Secretary Hagel addressed the issue of climate refugees, saying “Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.” Read more about climate refugees here.
    • Food Shortages. The mass migration described above can lead to internal and external conflict, which often requires military intervention. Our entry on climate refugees explains the issues:
      • Internal migration: Often, climate refugees are rural and coastal residents who are forced to migrate to urban areas. These climate refugees face numerous problems. Skills such as herding and farming are not relevant in urban areas. Rural farmers are often more self-sufficient than many urban dwellers; they may not be familiar with depending on a corporation or other people for employment.
      • External migration: Climate refugees may encounter conflict with indigenous residents. Educational and health care systems must adjust to a sudden, new population. This population may speak a different language or have different customs than the native population.
    • Disaster Relief. In addition to global disaster aid, Secretary Hagel acknowledged how the effects of climate change put domestic U.S. military installations at risk: According to the Washington Post, “[H]e cited the Hampton Roads region of Virginia as an example of an area that has both military bases and recurrent flooding.”


  • So, the military of the greatest superpower on Earth is targeting climate change. What can we as individuals do to help the effort?
    • According to our encyclopedic entry on climate change, here are some ideas:
      • Drive less. Use public transportation, carpool, walk, or ride a bike.
      • Fly less. Airplanes produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
      • Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
      • Plant a tree. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere.
      • Use less electricity.
      • Eat less meat. Cows are one of the biggest methane producers.
      • Support alternative energy sources that don’t burn fossil fuels, such as solar power and wind energy.



Washington Post: Climate change threatens national security, Pentagon says

NG Collection: climate change

NG Blog: What is ISIS?

NG Encyclopedia: climate change

NG Encyclopedia: climate refugee

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