Michael Klare, Five College Professor of Peace & World Security Studies, joins us to discuss the Pentagon’s view of climate change, why it’s distinctive, and how this all ultimately relates to the risks of great powers conflict and state collapse.
Topics discussed in this episode include:
- How the US military views and takes action on climate change
- Examples of existing climate related difficulties and what they tell us about the future
- Threat multiplication from climate change
- The risks of climate change catalyzed nuclear war and major conflict
- The melting of the Arctic and the geopolitical situation which arises from that
- Messaging on climate change
2:28 How does the Pentagon view climate change and why are they interested in it?
5:30 What are the Pentagon’s main priorities besides climate change?
8:31 What are the objectives of career officers at the Pentagon and how do they see climate change?
10:32 The relationship between Pentagon career officers and the Trump administration on climate change
15:47 How is the Pentagon’s view of climate change unique and important?
19:54 How climate change exacerbates existing difficulties and the issue of threat multiplication
24:25 How will climate change increase the tensions between the nuclear weapons states of India, Pakistan, and China?
26:32 What happened to Tacloban City and how is it relevant?
32:27 Why does the US military provide global humanitarian assistance?
34:39 How has climate change impacted the conditions in Nigeria and how does this inform the Pentagon’s perspective?
39:40 What is the ladder of escalation for climate change related issues?
46:54 What is “all hell breaking loose?”
48:26 What is the geopolitical situation arising from the melting of the Arctic?
52:48 Why does the Bering Strait matter for the Arctic?
54:23 The Arctic as a main source of conflict for the great powers in the coming years
58:01 Are there ongoing proposals for resolving territorial disputes in the Arctic?
1:01:40 Nuclear weapons risk and climate change
1:03:32 How does the Pentagon intend to address climate change?
1:06:20 Hardening US military bases and going green
1:11:50 How climate change will affect critical infrastructure
1:15:47 How do lethal autonomous weapons fit into the risks of escalation in a world stressed by climate change?
1:19:42 How does this all affect existential risk?
1:24:39 Are there timelines for when climate change induced stresses will occur?
1:27:03 Does tying existential risks to national security issues benefit awareness around existential risk?
1:30:18 Does relating climate change to migration issues help with climate messaging?
1:31:08 A summary of the Pentagon’s interest, view, and action on climate change
1:33:00 Final words from Michael
1:34:33 Where to find more of Michael’s work
We hope that you will continue to join in the conversations by following us or subscribing to our podcasts on Youtube, Spotify, SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, or your preferred podcast site/application.
Lucas Perry: Welcome to the Future of Life Institute Podcast. I’m Lucas Perry. Today’s episode is with Michael Klare and explores how the US Department of Defense views and take action on climate change. This conversation is primarily centered around Michael’s book, All Hell Breaking Loose. In both this podcast and his book, Michael does an excellent job of making clear how climate change will affect global stability and functioning in our lifetimes through tons of examples of recent climate induced instabilities. I was also surprised to learn that despite changes in administrations, the DoD continued to pursue climate change mitigation efforts despite the Trump administration’s actions to remove mention and activism on climate change from the federal government. So, if you’ve ever had any doubts or if the impact of climate change and it’s significance has ever or does feel fuzzy or vague to you, this podcast might remedy that.
I’d also like to make a final call for applications for the Podcast Producer role. If you missed it, we’re currently hiring for a Podcast Producer to work on the editing, production, publishing, and analytics tracking of the audio and visual content of this podcast. As the Producer you would be working directly with me, and the FLI outreach team, to help grow, and evolve this podcast. If you’re interested in applying, head over to the Careers tab on the Futureoflife.org homepage or follow the link in the description. The application deadline is July 31st, with rolling applications accepted thereafter until the role is filled. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Klare is a Five Colleges professor of Peace and World Security Studies. He serves on the board of directors of the Arms Control Association, and is a regular contributor to many publications including The Nation, TomDispatch and Mother Jones, and is a frequent columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. Klare has written fourteen books and hundreds of essays on issues of war and peace, resource competition, and international affairs. You can check his work at Michaelklare.com. And with that I’m happy to present this interview with Michael Klare.
So to start things off here, I’m curious if you could explain at the highest level, how is it that the Pentagon views climate change and why is the Pentagon interested in climate change?
Michael Klare: So, if you speak to people in the military, they will tell you over and over again that their top concern is China. China, China, China followed by Russia and then maybe North Korea and Iran, and they spend their days preparing for war with China and those other countries. Climate change intercedes into this conversation because ultimately they believe that climate change is going to degrade their capacity to prepare for and to fight China and other adversaries down the road, that climate change is a complicating factor, a distraction that will undermine their ability to perform their military duties, and moreover, they see that the threat posed by climate change is increasing exponentially over time. So, the more they look into the future, the more they see that climate change will degrade their ability to carry out what they see as their primary function, which is to prepare for war with China. And so, it’s in that sense that climate change is critical. Now, then you go down in the specific ways in which climate change is a problem, but it’s ultimately because it will distract them from doing what they see as their primary responsibility.
Lucas Perry: I see, so there’s a belief in the validity of it and the way in which it will basically exacerbate existing difficulties and make achieving more important objectives more difficult.
Michael Klare: Something like that. Climate change they see as an intrusion into their work space. They’re trained as soldiers to carry out their military duties, which is combat related, and they believe that climate change is very real and getting more intense as time goes on and it’s going to hold them back, intrude on their ability to carry out their combat functions. It’s going to be a distraction on multiple levels. It’s going to create new kinds of conflicts that they would rather not deal with. It’s going to create emergencies around the world, humanitarian disasters at home and abroad, all of these are going to suck away resources, time, effort, energy, money that they believe should be devoted to their primary function of preparing for war with major enemies.
Lucas Perry: What would you say the primary interests of the Pentagon are right now other than climate change?
Michael Klare: Other than climate change, well the US Department of Defense at this time has a number of crises going on simultaneously. In addition to climate change, there’s COVID of course. Like every other institution in US society, the military was hampered by COVID, many service people came down with COVID and some died and it forced military operations to be restricted. Ships had to be brought back to port because COVID broke out on ships, so that was a problem. The military is also addressing issues of racism and extremism in the ranks. That’s become a major problem right now that they are dealing with, but they view climate change as the leading threat to national security of a non-military nature.
Lucas Perry: So, China was one of the first things that you mentioned. How would you also rank and relate the space of their considerations like Russia and a nuclear North Korea and Iran?
Michael Klare: Sure, the Department of Defense just released their budget for fiscal year 2022, and they rank the military threats and they say China is overwhelmingly the number one threat to US national security followed by Russia, followed by North Korea and Iran, and then down the list would be terrorist threats like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. But as you know, the administration has made a decision to leave Afghanistan and to downgrade US forces in that part of the world, so fighting terrorism and insurgency has been demoted as a major threat to US security, and even Russia has been demoted to second place. Over the past few years, Russia and China have been equated, but now China has been pushed ahead as the number one threat. The term they use is the pacing threat, which is to say that because China’s the number one threat, we have to meet that threat and if we can overcome China, the US could overcome any other threat that might come along, but China is number one.
Lucas Perry: So, there’s this sense of top concerns that the Department of Defense has, and then this is all happening in a context of climate change, which makes achieving its objectives on each of these threats more and more difficult. So, in the context of this interplay, can you describe the objectives of career officers at the Pentagon and how it’s related to and important for how they consider and work with climate change?
Michael Klare: Sure, so if you’re an aspiring general or admiral right now, as I say, you’re going to be talking about how you’re preparing your units, your division, your ship, your air squadron to be better prepared to fight China, but you also have to worry about what they call the operating environment, the OE, the operating environment in which your forces are going to be operating in, and if you’re going to be operating in the Pacific, which means dealing with China, then you have a whole set of worries that emerges. We have allies there that we count on: Japan, South Korea, the Philippines.
These countries are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and are becoming more so very rapidly. Moreover, we have bases in those places. Most of those bases, air bases and naval bases are at sea level or very close to sea level and are over and over again have been assaulted by powerful typhoons and have been disrupted, have had to be shut down for days or weeks at a time, and some of those bases like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean for example, or the Marianas Islands are not going to be viable much longer because they’re so close to sea level and sea level rise is just going to come and swamp them. So from an operating environment point of view, you have to be very aware of the impacts of climate change on the space in which you’re going to operate.
Lucas Perry: So, it seems like the concerns and objectives of career officers at the Pentagon can be distinguished in significant ways from the perspective and position of politicians, so there’s like some tension at least between career officers or the objectives of the Pentagon in relation to how some constituencies of the American political parties are skeptical of climate change?
Michael Klare: Yes, this was certainly the case during the Trump administration because the commander in chief, as one of his titles, President Trump forbad the discussion of climate change, and he was a denier. He called it a hoax and he forbad any conversation of that. So, the US military did have a position on climate change during the Obama administration. It had as early as 2010 the Department of Defense stated that climate change posed a serious threat to US security and was taking steps to address that threat. So when Trump came along, all of that had to go underground. It didn’t stop, but the Pentagon had to develop a whole lot of euphemisms, like changing climate or extreme weather events, all kinds of euphemisms used to describe what they saw as climate change, but that didn’t stop them from facing the consequences of climate change. During the Trump administration, US military bases in the US suffered billions and billions of dollars of damage from Hurricane Michael, from others that hit the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico that did tremendous damage to a number of key US bases.
And, the military is still having to find the money to pay for that damage, and the Navy in particular is deeply concerned that its major operating bases in the United States… A Navy base by definition is going to be at the ocean, and many of these bases are of very low lying areas and already are being repeatedly flooded at very high tides, or when there are storms and the Navy is very aware that their ability to carry out their missions to reinforce American forces either in the Atlantic or Pacific are at risk because of rising seas, and they had to maneuver around Trump all during that period, trying to protect their bases, but calling it by different names, calling the danger they faced by different names.
Lucas Perry: Right, so there’s this sense of Trump essentially canceling mention of climate change throughout the federal government and its branches and the Pentagon responding by quietly still responding to what they see as a real threat. Is there anything else you’d like to add here about the Obama to Trump transition that helps to really paint the picture of how the Pentagon views climate change and what it did despite attempts to suppress thought and action around climate change?
Michael Klare: During the Obama administration, as I say, the Department of Defense acknowledged the reality of climate change number one. Number two said it posed a threat to US national security, and as a result said that the Department of Defense had an obligation to reduce its contribution to climate change to reduce its emissions and made all kinds of pledges that it was going to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels and increase its reliance on renewable energy, begin constructing solar arrays. A lot of very ambitious goals were announced in the Obama period, and although all of this was supposed to stop when Trump came into office because he said we’re not going to do anymore any of this anymore. In fact, the Pentagon continued to proceed with a lot of these endeavors, which were meant to mitigate climate change, but again, using different terminology that this was about base reliance, self-reliance, resiliency, and so on, not mentioning climate change, but nonetheless continued to proceed with efforts to actually mitigate their impact on climate.
Lucas Perry: All right, so is there any sense in which the Pentagon’s view of climate change is unique? And, could you also explain how it’s important and relevant for climate change and also the outcomes related to climate change?
Michael Klare: Yes, I think the Pentagon’s view of climate change, I think, is very distinctive and not well understood by the American public, and that’s why I think it’s so important, and that is that the Department of Defense sees climate change as… The term they use is as a threat multiplier. They say, look, we look out at the world and part of our job is to forecast ahead of time where our threat’s going to emerge to US security around the world. That’s our job, and to prepare for those threats, and we see that climate change is going to multiply threats in areas of the world that are already unstable, that are already suffering from scarcities of resources, where populations are divided and where resources are scarce and contested, and that this is going to create a multitude of new challenges for the United States and its allies around the world.
So, this notion of a threat multiplier is very much a part of the Pentagon’s understanding of climate change. What they mean by that is that societies are vulnerable in many ways and especially societies that are divided along ethnic and religious and racial lines as so many societies are, and if resources are scarce, housing, water, food, jobs, whatever, climate change is going to exacerbate these divisions within societies, including American society for that matter, but it’s going to exacerbate divisions around the world and it’s going to create a social breakdown and state collapse. And, the consequence of state collapse could include increased pandemics for example, and contribute to the spread of disease. It’s going to lead to mass migrations and mass migrations are going to become a growing problem for the US.
The influx of migrants on America’s Southern border, many of these people today are coming from Central America and from an area that’s suffering from extreme drought and where crop failure has become widespread, and people can’t earn an income and they’re fleeing to the United States in desperation. Well, this is something the military has been studying and talking about for a long time as a consequence of climate change, as an example of the ways in which climate change is going to multiply schisms in society and threats of all kinds that ultimately will endanger the United States, but it’s going to fall on their shoulders to cope with and creating humanitarian disasters and migratory problems.
And as I say, this is not what they view as their primary responsibility. They want to prepare for high-tech warfare with China and Russia, and they see all of this as a tremendous distraction, which will undermine their ability to defend the United States against its primary adversaries. So, it’s multiplying the threats and dangers to the United States on multiple levels including, and we have to talk about this, threats to the homeland itself.
Lucas Perry: I think one thing you do really well in your book is you give a lot of examples of natural disasters that have occurred recently, which will only increase with the existence of climate change as well as areas which are already experiencing climate change, and you give lots of examples about how that increases stress in the region. Before we move on to those examples, I just want to more clearly lay out all the ways in which climate change just makes everything worse. So, there’s the sense in which it stresses everything that is already stressed. Everything basically becomes more difficult and challenging, and so you mentioned things like mass migration, the increase of disease and pandemics, the increase of terrorism in destabilized regions, states may begin to collapse. There is, again, this idea of threat multiplication, so everything that’s already bad gets worse.
Lucas Perry: There’s loss of food, water, and shelter instability. There’s an increase in natural disasters from more and more extreme weather. This all leads to more resource competition and also energy crises as rivers dry up and electric dams stop working and the energy grid gets taxed more and more due to the extreme weather. So, is there anything else that you’d like to add here in terms of the specific ways in which things get worse and worse from the factor of threat multiplication?
Michael Klare: Then, you start getting kind of specific about particular places that could be affected, and the Pentagon would say, well this is first going to happen in the most vulnerable societies, poor countries, Central America, North Africa, places like that where society is already divided, poor, and the capacity to cope with disaster is very low. So, climate change will come along and conditions will deteriorate, and the state is unable to cope and you have breakdown and you have these migrations, but they also worry that as time goes on and climate change intensifies, that a bigger and bigger or richer and richer and more important states will begin to disintegrate, and some of these states are very important to US security and some of them have nuclear weapons, and then you have really serious dangers. For example, they worry a great deal about Pakistan.
Pakistan is a nuclear armed country. It’s also deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines, and it has multiple vulnerabilities to climate change. It goes between extremes of water scarcity, which will increase as the Himalayan glaciers disappear, but also we know that monsoons are likely to become more erratic and more destructive with more flooding.
All of these pose great threats to the ability of Pakistan’s government and society to cope with all of its internal divisions, which are already severe to begin with, and what happens when Pakistan experiences a state collapse and nuclear weapons begin to disappear into the hands of the Taliban or to forces close to the Taliban, then you have a level of worry and concern much greater than anything we’ve been talking before, and this is something that the Pentagon has started to worry about and to develop contingency plans for. And, there are other examples of this level of potential threat arising from bigger and more powerful states disintegrating. Saudi Arabia is at risk, Nigeria is at risk, the Philippines, a major ally in the Pacific is at extreme risk from rising waters and extreme storms, and I can continue, but from a strategic point of view, this starts getting very worrisome for the Department of Defense.
Lucas Perry: Could you also paint a little bit of a picture of how climate change will exacerbate the conditions between Pakistan, India, and China, especially given that they’re all nuclear weapon states?
Michael Klare: Absolutely, and this all goes back to water and many of us view water scarcity as the greatest danger arising from climate change in many parts of the world. In the case of India, China, Pakistan, not to mention a whole host of other countries depend very heavily on rivers that originate in the Himalayan mountains and draw a fair percentage of their water from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and these glaciers are disappearing at a very rapid rate and are expected to lose a very large percentage of their mass by the end of this century due to warming temperatures.
And, this means that these critical rivers that are shared by these countries, the Indus River shared by India and Pakistan, the Brahmaputra River shared by India and China, these rivers, which provide the water for irrigation for hundreds of millions of people if not billions of people, depend on these rivers, the Mekong is another. As the water supply begins to diminish, this is going to exacerbate border disputes. All of these countries, Indian and China, Indian and Pakistan have border and territorial disputes. They have very restive agricultural populations to start with, that water scarcity is going to be the tipping point that will produce massive local violence that will lead to conflict between these countries, all of them nuclear armed.
Lucas Perry: So, to paint a little bit more of a picture of these historical examples of states essentially failing to be able to respond to climate events and the kind of destructive force that was to society and to the status of humanitarian conditions and the increasing need for humanitarian operations, so can you describe what happened in Tacloban for example, as well as what is going on in the Nigerian region?
Michael Klare: So, Tacloban is a major city on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, and it was a direct hit. It suffered a direct hit from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. This was the most powerful typhoon to make landfall up until that point, an extremely powerful storm that created millions of homeless in the Philippines. Many people perished, but Tacloban was at the forefront of this. A city of several hundred thousand, many poor people living in low lying areas at the forefront of the storm. The storm surge was 10 or 20 feet high. That just over overwhelmed these low lying shanty towns, flooded them. Thousands of people died right away. The entire infrastructure of the city collapsed was destroyed, hospitals, everything. Food ran out, water ran out, and there was an element of despair and chaos. The Philippine government proved incapable of doing anything.
And, President Obama ordered the US Pacific Command to provide emergency assistance, and it sent almost the entire US Pacific fleet to Tacloban to provide emergency assistance on the scale of a major war, aircraft carrier, dozens of warships, hundreds of planes, thousands of troops to provide emergency assistance. Now, it was a wonderful sign of US aid. There are a number of elements of this crisis that are worthy of mention. In addition to all of this, one was the fact that there was anti-government rioting because of the failure of the local authorities to provide assistance or to provide it only to wealthy people in the town, and this is so often a characteristic of these disasters that assistance is not provided equitably, and the same thing was seen with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and this then becomes a new source of conflict.
When a disaster occurs and you do not have equitable emergency response, and some people are denied help and others are provided assistance, you’re setting the stage for future conflicts and anti-government violence, which is what happened in Tacloban And the US military had to intercede to calm things down, and this is something that has altered US thinking about humanitarian assistance because now they understand that it’s not just going to be handing out food and water, it’s also going to mean playing the role of a local government and providing police assistance and mediating disputes and providing law and order, not just in foreign countries, but in the United States itself and this proved to be the case in Houston with Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria when local authorities simply disappeared or broke down and the military had to step in and play the role of government, which comes back to what I’ve been saying all along. From the military’s point of view, this is not what they were trained to do.
This is not what they want to do, and they view this as a distraction from their primary military function. So, here’s the Pacific fleet engaging in this very complex emergency in the Philippines, and what if there were a crisis with China that were to break out? The whole force would have been immobilized at that time, and this is the kind of worry that they have that climate change is going to create these complex emergencies they call them, or complex disasters that are going to require not just a quick in and out kind of situation, but a permanent or semi-permanent involvement in a disaster area and to provide services for which the military is not adequately prepared, but they see that climate change increasingly will force them to play this kind of role and thereby distracting them from what they see as their more important mission.
Lucas Perry: Right, so there’s this sense of the military increasingly being deployed in areas to provide humanitarian assistance. It’s obvious why that would be important and needed domestically in the United States and its territories. Can you explain why the military is incentivized or interested in providing global humanitarian assistance?
Michael Klare: This has always been part of American foreign policy, American diplomacy, winning friends, winning over friends and allies. So, it’s partly to make the United States look good particularly when other countries are not capable of doing that. We’re the one country that has that kind of global naval capacity to go anywhere and do that sort of thing. So, it’s a little bit a matter of showing off our capacity, but it’s also in the case of the Philippines, the Philippines plays a strategic role in US planning for conflict in the Pacific.
It is seen as a valuable ally in any future conflict with China and therefore its stability matters to the United States and the cooperation of the Philippine government is considered important and access to bases in the Philippines, for example, is considered important to the US. So, the fact that key allies of the US in the Pacific, in the Middle East and Europe are at risk of collapsing due to climate change poses a threat to the whole strategic planning of the US, which is to fight wars over there, in the forward area of operations off the coast of China, or off of Russian territory. So, we are very reliant on the stability and the capacity of key allies in these areas. So, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is a part of a larger strategy of reliance on key allies in strategic parts of the world.
Lucas Perry: Can you also explain the conditions in Nigeria and how climate change has exacerbated those conditions and how this fits into the Pentagon’s perspective and interest in the issue?
Michael Klare: So, Nigeria is another country that has strategic significance for the US, not perhaps on the same scale as say Pakistan or Japan, but still important. Nigeria is a leading oil producer, not as important as it once was perhaps, but nonetheless important, but Nigeria is also a key player in peacekeeping operations throughout Africa and because the US doesn’t want to play that role itself, it relies on Nigeria for peacekeeping troops in many parts of Africa. And, Nigeria occupies a key piece of territory in Central Africa, which is it’s surrounded by countries, which are much more fragile and are threatened by terrorist organizations. So, Nigeria’s stability is very important in this larger picture, and in fact Nigeria itself is at risk from terrorist movements, especially Boko Haram and splinter groups, which continue to wreak havoc in Northern Nigeria despite years of effort by the Nigerian government to crush Boko Haram, it’s still a powerful force.
And, partly this is due to climate change. The Boko Haram operates in areas around Lake Chad, which is now a small sliver of what it once was. It has greatly diminished in size because of global warming and water mismanagement. And so, the farmers and fisher folk whose livelihood depended on Lake Chad has all been decimated. Many of them have become impoverished. The Nigerian government has proved inept and incapable of providing for their needs, and many of these people have therefore fallen prey to the appeals of recruitment by Boko Haram, young men without jobs. So, climate change is facilitating, is fueling the persistence of groups like Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in Nigeria, but that’s only part of the picture. There’s also growing conflict between pastoralists, these are herders, cattle herders whose lands are being devastated by desertification.
In this Sahel region, the southern fringe of the Sahara is expanding with climate change and driving these pastoralists into areas occupied by… These are all Muslim, the pastoralists are primarily Muslims and they’re moving into lands occupied by Christians, mainly Christian farmers, and there’s been terrible violence in the past few years, many hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Again, inept Nigerian response, and so I could go on. There’s violence in the Nigeria Delta region, the Niger Delta area in the south and in the area, their breakaway provinces. So, Nigeria is at permanent risk of breaking apart, and the US provides a lot of military aid to Nigeria and provides training. So, the US is involved in this country and faces a possibility of greater disequilibrium and greater US involvement.
Lucas Perry: Right, so I think this does a really good job of painting the picture of this factor of threat multiplication from climate change. So, climate change makes getting food, water, and shelter more difficult. There’s more extreme weather, which makes those things more difficult, which increases instability, and for places that are already not that stable, they get a lot more unstable and then states begin to collapse and you get terrorism, and then you get mass migration, and then there’s more disease spreading, so you get conditions for increased pandemics. Whether it’s in Nigeria or Pakistan and India or the Philippines or the United States and China and Russia, everything just keeps getting worse and worse and more difficult and challenging with climate change. So, could you describe the ladder of escalation of climate change related issues for the military and how that fits into all this?
Michael Klare: Well, now this is an expression that I made up to try to put this in some kind of context, drawing on the ladder of escalation from the nuclear era when the military talked about the escalation conflict from a skirmish to a small war, to a big war, to the first use of nuclear weapons, to all out nuclear war. That was the ladder of escalation of the nuclear age, and what I see happening is something of a similar nature where at present we’re still dealing mainly with these threat multiplying conditions occurring in the smaller and weaker states of Africa, Chad, Niger, Sudan and the Central American countries, Nicaragua and El Salvador, where you see all of these conditions developing, but not posing a threat to the central core of the major powers, but as climate change advances, the military expects and US intelligence agencies expect, as I indicated, that larger, stronger, richer states will experience the same kinds of consequences and dangers and begin to experience this kind of state disintegration.
So, what we’re seeing in places like Chad and Niger, which involves this skirmishing between insurgents, terrorists, and other factions in which the US is playing a remote role, is playing the role, but it’s remote to situations where a Pakistan collapses, a Nigeria collapses, a Saudi Arabia collapses would require a much greater involvement by American forces on a much larger scale and that would be the next step up the ladder of escalation arising from climate change, and then you have the possibility, as I indicated, where nuclear armed states would engage in conflict, would be drawn into conflict because of climate related factors like the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and Indian and Pakistan going to war or Indian and China going to war, or we haven’t discussed this, but another consequence of climate change is the melting of the Arctic and this is leading to competition between the US and Russia in particular for control of that area.
So, you go from disintegration of small states to disintegration of medium-sized states, to conflict between nuclear armed states, and eventually to conceivable US involvement in climate related conflicts. That would be the ladder of escalation as I see it, and on top of that, you would have multiple disasters happening simultaneously in the United States of America, which would require a massive US military response. So, you can envision, and the military certainly worries about this, a time when US forces are fully immobilized and incapable of carrying out what they see as their primary defense tasks because they’re divided. Half their forces are engaging in disaster relief in the United States and another half are dealing with these multiple disasters in the rest of the world.
Lucas Perry: So, I have a few bullet points here that you could expand upon or correct about this ladder of escalation as you describe it. So at first, there’s the humanitarian interventions where the military is running around to solve particular humanitarian disasters like in Tacloban. Then, there’s limited military operations to support allies. There’s disruptions to supply chains and the increase of failed states. There’s the conflict over resources. There’s internal climate catastrophes and complex catastrophes, which you just mentioned, and then there’s what you call climate shock waves, and finally all hell breaking loose where you have multiple failed states, tons of mass migration, a situation in which no state no matter how powerful is able to handle.
Michael Klare: Climate shock wave would be a situation where you have multiple extreme disasters occurring simultaneously in different parts of the world leading to a breakdown in the supply chains that keep the world’s economy afloat and keep food and energy supplies flowing around the world, and this is certainly a very real possibility. Scientists speak of clusters of extreme events, and we’ve begun to see that. We saw that in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey was followed immediately by Hurricane Irma in Florida, and then Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico and the US military responded to each of those events, but had some difficulty moving emergency supplies first from Houston to Florida, then to Puerto Rico. At the same time, the west of the US was burning up. There were multiple forest fires out of control and the military was also supplying emergency assistance to California, Washington State, and Oregon.
That’s an example of clusters of extreme events. Now looking into the future, scientists are predicting that this could occur in several continents simultaneously. And as a result, food supply chains would break down, and many parts of the world rely on imported grain supplies, or other food stuffs and imported energy. And in a situation like this, you could imagine a climate shockwave in which trade just collapses and entire states suffer from a major catastrophe, food catastrophes leading to state collapse and all that we’ve been talking about.
Lucas Perry: Can you describe what all hell breaking loose is?
Michael Klare: Well, this is my expression for the all of the above scenario. You have these multiple disasters occurring and one that we have not discussed at length is the threat to American bases and how that would impact on the military. So, you have these multiple disasters occurring that create a demand on the military to provide assistance domestically, like I say, many areas needing emergency assistance and not just of the obvious sort of handing out water bottles, but as I say, complex emergencies where the military is being called in to provide law and order, to restore infrastructure, to play the role of government. So, you need large capacity organizations to step in. At the same time, it’s being asked to do that in other parts of the world, or to intervene in conflicts with nuclear armed states happening simultaneously. But at the same time, its own bases have been immobilized by rising seas and flooding and fires. All of this is a very realistic scenario because parts of it have already occurred.
Lucas Perry: All right, so let’s make a little bit of a pivot here into something that you mentioned earlier, which is the melting of the Arctic. So, I’m curious if you could explain the geopolitical situation that arises from the melting of the Arctic Ocean… Sorry, the Arctic region that creates a new ocean that leads to Arctic shipping lanes, a new front to defend, and resource competition for fish, minerals, natural gas and oil.
Michael Klare: Yes, indeed. In a way, the Arctic is how the military first got interested in climate change, especially the Navy because the Navy never had much of an Arctic responsibility. It was covered with ice, so its ships couldn’t go there except for submarines on long-range patrols under the sea ice, but the Navy never had to worry about the Arctic. And then around 2009, the Department of the Navy created a climate change task force to address the consequences of a melting Arctic sea ice and came to the view that as you say, this is a new ocean that they would have to defend that they’d never thought about before, and for which they were not prepared.
Their ships were not equipped to operate, for the most part, in the Arctic. So ever since then, the Arctic has become a major geopolitical concern of the United States on multiple fronts. But two or three points in particular that need to be noted, first of all, the melting of the ice cap makes it possible to extract resources from the area, oil and natural gas, and it turns out there’s a lot of oil and natural gas buried under the ice cap, under the seabed of the Arctic and oil and gas companies are very eager to exploit those untapped reserves. So the area, what was once considered worthless, is now a valuable geo-economic prize and countries have exerted claims to the area, and some of these claims overlap. So, you have border disputes in the Arctic between Russia and the United States, Russia and Norway, Canada and Greenland, and so on. There are now border disputes because of the resources that are in these areas. And because of drilling occurring there, you now need to worry about spills and disasters occurring, so that creates a whole new level of Naval and Coast Guard operations in the Arctic. This has also led to shipping lanes opening up into the region, and who controls those shipping lanes becomes a matter of interest. Russia is trying to develop what it calls the Northern Sea Route from the Pacific to the Atlantic going across its Northern territory across Siberia, and potentially, this could save two weeks of travel for container ships, moving from Rotterdam say to Shanghai and could be commercially very important.
Russia wants to control that route but the U.S. and other countries says, “It’s not yours to control.” So, you have disputes over the sea routes. But then, more important than any of the above is that Russia has militarized its portion of the Arctic, which is the largest portion, and this has become a new frontier for U.S.-Russian military competition, and there has been a huge increase in military exercises, base construction. Now, from the U.S. point of view, the Arctic is a new front in the future war with Russia and they’re training for this all the time.
Lucas Perry: Could you explain how the Bering Strait fits in?
Michael Klare: The Bering Strait between the U.S. and Russia is a pretty narrow space and that’s the only way to get from the North Pacific into the Arctic region, whether you’re going to Northern Alaska and Northern Canada, or to across from China and Japan, across the Northern Sea Route to Europe. So, this becomes a strategic passage way, the way Gibraltar has been the past. And both the U.S. and Russia are fortifying that passageway and there’s constant tussling going on there. It doesn’t get reported much, but every other week or so, Russia will send up its war planes right to the edge of U.S. airspace in that region, or the U.S. will send its planes into the edge of Russian airspace to test their reflexes and their naval maneuvers happening all the time. So, this has become seen as a important strategic place on the global chessboard.
Lucas Perry: How does climate change affect the Bering Strait?
Michael Klare: Well, it affects it in the sense that it’s become the entry point to the Arctic and the climate change has made the Arctic a place you want to go that it wasn’t before.
Lucas Perry: All right. So, one point that you made in your book that I like to highlight is that the Arctic is seen as a main place for conflict between the great powers in the coming years. Is that correct?
Michael Klare: Yes. For the U.S. and Russia, it’s important, here we would focus more on the Barents Sea, the area above Norway, and just, it helps of course to have a map in your mind, but Russia shares the border with Norway in it’s extreme north. And that part of Russia is the Kola Peninsula, and it’s where the City of Murmansk is located, and that’s the headquarters of Russia’s Northern Fleet and where it keeps its nuclear or missile submarines are based there. So, that’s how, that’s one of Russia’s few ways of access into the Atlantic Ocean from its own territory, from its major naval port at Murmansk. The waters adjacent to Northern Norway and Russia, like on the other side, have become a strategic, very important strategic military location. The U.S. has started building military bases with Norway in that area close to the Russian border. We’ve now stationed B-1 bombers in that area, so it is seen as a likely first area of conflict in the event of a war between the U.S. and Russia is going to occur at that spot.
Climate change figures into this because Russia views its Arctic region as critical economically as well as strategically and is building up its military forces there. And therefore, from U.S. NATO point of view, it’s a more strategically important region. But you ask about China, and China has become very interested in the Arctic as a source of raw materials, but also as a strategic passageway from its east coast to Europe for the reason I indicated, if once the ice cap melts, they’ll be able to ship goods to Europe in much shorter space of time and bring goods back if they can go through the Arctic. But China also is very interested in drilling for energy at the Arctic and for minerals, there are a lot of valuable minerals believed to be in Greenland.
You can’t get to those now because Greenland is covered with ice. But as that ice melts, which it’s doing at a rapid rate, the ground is becoming exposed and mining activities have begun there for things like uranium, and rare earths, and other valuable minerals. China is very deeply interested in mining there and this has led to diplomatic maneuverings, didn’t Donald Trump once talk about buying Greenland, to geopolitical competition between the U.S. and China over Greenland and this area.
Lucas Perry: Are there any ongoing proposals for how to resolve territorial disputes in the Arctic?
Michael Klare: Well, the shorter answer is no, there’s talk, there is something called the Arctic Council and this is an organization of the states that occupy territory in the Arctic region and it has some very positive environmental agendas and had some success in addressing non-geopolitical issues. But it has not been given the authority to address territorial disputes that members have resisted that. So, you don’t have a, it’s not a forum that would provide for that. There is a mechanism under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that allows for adjudication of off shore territorial disputes and it’s possible that that could be a forum for discussion, but mostly, these disputes have remained unresolved.
Lucas Perry: I don’t know much about this. Does that have something to do with, you have so many, you have X many miles from your sea shelf or something having to do with like the tectonic plates or ocean something.
Michael Klare: I can… Yes, so under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, you’re allowed a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone off your coastline. Every, any coastal country can claim 200 nautical miles. But you’re also allowed an extra 150 miles if your outer continental shelf, if you can prove scientifically that your outer continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles, then you can extend your EEZ another 150 nautical miles out to 350 nautical miles. And the Northern Arctic has islands and territories that have allowed contending states to claim overlapping EEZs-
Lucas Perry: Oh, okay.
Michael Klare: … on this bases.
Lucas Perry: I see.
Michael Klare: And Russia has claimed vast areas of the Arctic as part of its outer continental shelf. But the great imperial power of Denmark, which territorially, is one of the largest imperial powers on earth because it owns Greenland, and Greenland also has an extended outer continental shelf that overlaps with Russia’s, as does Canada’s. You have to picture the looking down, not on the kind of wall maps we have of the world in our classrooms that make the Arctic look huge, but from a global map, everything comes closer together up there. And so, these extended EEZs overlap and so Greenland, and Canada, and Russia are all claiming the North Pole.
Lucas Perry: Okay. So, I think that paints really well the picture of the already existing and conflict there and how it will likely only get worse in terms of the amount of conflict. It’d be great if we could focus a bit on nuclear weapons risk in climate change in particular. I’m curious if you could explain the DOD’s concerns an improving China, and a nuclear North Korea, and India, and Pakistan, and other nuclear states in this evolving situation of increasing territorial disputes due to climate change.
Michael Klare: From a nuclear war perspective, the two greatest dangers I think and I’ve mentioned these, one is the collapse or the disappearance of the Himalayan Glaciers, sparking a war between India and China that would go nuclear, or one between India and Pakistan that would go nuclear. That’s one climate-related risk of nuclear escalation. The other is in the Arctic, and here, I think the danger is the fact that Russia has turned the Arctic into a major stronghold for its nuclear weapons capabilities. It stations a large share of its nuclear retaliatory, warheads on submarines, and other forces that are based in the Arctic. And so, in the event of a conflict between the U.S. and Russia, this could very well take place in the Arctic region and trigger the use of nuclear weapons as a consequence.
Lucas Perry: I think we’ve done a really good job of showing all of the bad things that happen as climate change gets worse. The Pentagon has perspective on everything that we’ve covered here, is that correct?
Michael Klare: Yes.
Lucas Perry: So, how does the Pentagon intend to address the issue of climate change and how it affects its operations?
Michael Klare: The Pentagon has multiple responses to this, and this began as early as 2010 in the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2010. This is a every four-year strategic blueprint released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense. And that years was the first one that, number one, identified climate change as a national security threat and spelled out the responses that the military should make, and there were three parts to that. One part is, I guess you would call it hardening U.S. bases to the impacts of climate change, increasing resiliency and seawalls to protect low-lying bases, but otherwise, enhancing the survivability of U.S. bases in the face of climate change. That’s one response. A second response is in mitigating the department’s own contributions to climate change by reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. And I could talk what specifically they’re doing in that area.
The third is, and I think this is very interesting, they said that we should not only, that because climate change is a global problem, this was specific, climate change is a global problem, affects our allies and friends, and therefore, we should work with our allies and with the military forces of our allies and friends to do the same things we’re doing at home to do in their countries as well, that is to build resilience, to prepare for climate change, to reduce impacts so that this would be a global cooperative effort, military to military which has gotten very little attention, I think, from the media and from Congress and elsewhere, but a very important part of American foreign policy with respect to climate change.
Lucas Perry: So, there’s hardening our own bases and systems, I believe in your book you mentioned, for example, turning bases into operational islands such that their energy and material needs are disconnected from supply lines. The second was reducing the greenhouse emissions of the military, and the third is helping allies with such efforts. I’m curious if you could describe a bit more the first and the second of these, the hardening of our own systems and bases and becoming more green. Because I mean, it is interesting and at least a little bit surprising that the military is trying to become green in order to improve combat readiness through independence of a foreign and domestic fuel needs and sources. So, could you explain a little bit more this, for example, the drive to create a green fleet in the Navy?
Michael Klare: Sure. Now, but this began during the Obama administration and then went semi-underground during the Trump administration, so the information we have is mainly pre-Trump. Now, under president Biden, climate change has been elevated to a national security threat as per an executive order he issued shortly after taking office, and our new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said, has issued a complementary statement that climate change is a departmental-wide Department of Defense concern, so activities that were prohibited by the Trump administration will now be revived. So, we will now hear a lot more about this in the months ahead, but there is a four-year blackout of information on what was being done. But during the Obama administration, the Department of Defense was ordered to, as I say, to work on adaptation and mitigation both as part of its responsibilities, the adaptation affected particularly bases in low low-lying coastal areas.
And there are a lot of U.S. bases for historic purposes, for historic reasons are located along the East Coast of the U.S., that’s where they started out. Most important of them is the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, the most important naval base in the United States. It’s at sea level and it’s on basically reclaimed swamplands and it’s subsiding into the ocean at the same time sea level is rising. But there are many other bases along the East Coast and Florida, and in the Gulf coast that are at equal risk. And so, part of what the military is doing is to build seawalls to protect them against sea surges, moving critical equipment from areas that are in high flood prone areas to areas that are at higher elevation, adopting codes, any new buildings built on these bases have to be hardened against hurricanes, and sensitive equipment, electronic equipment has to be put in the higher stories so that if they are flooded they won’t be damaged.
There’s a lot of very concrete measures that have to do with base construction that have been undertaken to enhance the resilience of bases in response to extreme storms and flooding. That’s one aspect of this. The mitigation aspect is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to convert as wherever possible, vehicles, air, ground, and sea vehicles to use alternative fuels. So, the Navy, the Army, the Air Force are converting their non-tactical vehicle fleets, they all have huge numbers of ordinary sedans, and vans, and trucks. Increasingly, these will be hybrids or electric vehicles. And the Air Force is experimenting with alternative fuels produced by algae, and the Navy has experimented with alternative fuels derived from agricultural products, and so on. So, there’s a lot of experimentation going on, a lot of, some of the biggest solar arrays in the U.S. are on U.S. military bases or constructed at the behest of U.S. military bases by private energy companies. Those are some of the activities that are underway.
Lucas Perry: In addition to threatening U.S. military bases and the bases of our allies, climate change will also affect the safety and security of, for example biosafety level 4 labs and also nuclear power plants. So, I’m curious how you view the risks of climate change affecting crucial infrastructure, should it fail, could create global catastrophe, for example, from nuclear power plants melting down or pathogens being released from biosafety labs that fail under the stresses of climate change.
Michael Klare: I have not seen the literature on the bio labs in the Pentagon literature. What they do worry about is the fragility of the U.S. energy infrastructure in particular, in part because they depend on the same energy infrastructure as we do for their energy needs, for electricity transmission, pipelines and the like to supply their bases and their other facilities. And they’re very aware that the U.S. energy infrastructure is exceedingly vulnerable to climate change, either a lot of it, a very large part of our infrastructure is on the East Coast and the West Coast, very close to sea level, very exposed to storm damage and a lot of it is just fragile. A clearer example of that is Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico when the electric system collapsed entirely and the Army Corps of Engineers had to come in and were there for almost an entire year rebuilding the energy infrastructure of Puerto Rico.
They’ve had to do this and other places as well. So, they are very worried that climate change disasters, multiple disasters, will knock out the power in the U.S. causing major cascading failures. So, when energy fails, then petrochemical facilities fail. And that’s what happened in Houston in Hurricane Harvey. The power failure went out and these petrochemical facilities, which Houston has many of, failed and toxic chemicals spilled out, and also the sewer system collapsed. So, you have, cascading failures producing toxic threat. And the military had to issue toxic protective clothing to its personnel in doing rescue operations because the water in flooded areas of Houston was poisonous. So, it’s the cascading effects that they worry about. This happened in New York City with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 where power went out, then gas stations couldn’t operate and hospitals and nursing homes couldn’t function. Well, I’m going on here, but you get a sense of the interrelationship between these critical elements of infrastructure. Fires are another aspect of this, as we know from California. A lot of US bases in California are at risk from fires and the transmission lines that carry the energy. I was going to mention the Colonial Pipeline disaster, which was a cyber attack, not climate related, but that exposes the degree to which our energy infrastructure is fragile.
Lucas Perry: If it rains or snows just enough, we’ve all experienced losing power for six hours or more. The energy grid seems very fragile even to relatively normal weather.
Michael Klare: Yes, but with climate change and these multiple, simultaneous disasters where the whole systems break down.
Lucas Perry: Do you see lethal autonomous weapons as fitting into the risks of escalation in a world stressed by climate change?
Michael Klare: Well, I see lethal autonomous weapons as a major issue and problem, which I’ve written about and I worry about a great deal. Now, what is their relationship to climate change? I couldn’t say. I think the military in general is facing the world in which they feel that humans are increasingly unable to cope with the demands of time compression and decision-making and the complexity of the environment in which decision-makers have to operate and that’s partly technological, it’s partly just the complexity of the world that we’ve been discussing.
And so, there’s ever increasing sense among the military that commanders have to be provided with computer assisted decision-making and autonomous operations because they can’t process the amount of data that’s coming into them simultaneously. This is behind not just autonomous weapons systems, but autonomous weapons systems’ decision-making. The new plans for how the Army, Navy, and Air Force will operate will be fewer human decision-makers and more machine information processors and decision-makers, and which humans will be given a menu of possible choices, but they will be strike this set of targets or that set of targets, but not stop and think about this, and maybe we should de-escalate. They’re going to be militarized options.
Lucas Perry: So, some sense of lethal autonomous weapons is potentially exacerbating or catalyzing the speed at which the ladder of escalation is moved through.
Michael Klare: No question about it. Many factors are contributing to that. The speed of weaponry, the introduction of hypersonic missiles, which cuts down flight time from 30 minutes to five minutes, the fact that wars are being conducted in what they call multiple domains simultaneously: cyber, space, air, sea, and ground, that no commander can know what’s happening in all of those domains and make decisions. So, you have to have what they want to create, a super brain called the Joint All-Domain Command and Control System, the JADC2 system, which will collect data from sensors all over the planet and compress it into simplified assessments of what’s happening, and then tell commanders, here are your choices, one, two, and three, and you have five seconds to choose, and if not, we’ll pick the best one and we’ll be linked directly to the firers to launch weapons. This is what the future will look like, and they’re testing this now. It’s called Project Convergence.
Lucas Perry: So, how do you see all of this affecting the risks of human extinction and of existential risks?
Michael Klare: I’m deeply concerned about this inclination to rely more on machines to make decisions of life and death for the planet. I think everybody should be worried about this, and I don’t think enough attention is being paid to these dangers of automating life and death decision-making, but this is moving ahead very rapidly and I think it does pose enormous risks. The reason that I’m so worried is that I think the computer assisted decision-making will have a bias towards military actions.
Humans are imperfect and sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we get angry and we go in the direction of being more violent and brutal. There’s no question about that, but we also have a capacity to say, stop, wait a minute, there’s something wrong here and maybe we should think twice and hold back. And, that’s saved us on a number of occasions from nuclear extinction. I recommend the book Gambling with Armageddon by Martin Sherwin, a new account of the Cuban Missile Crisis day by day, hour by hour account, and which it was clear that the US and Russia came very close, extremely close to starting a nuclear war in 1962, and somebody said, “Wait a minute, let’s just think about this. Let’s not rush into this. Let’s give it another 24 hours to see if we can come up with a solution.”
Adlai Stevenson apparently played a key role in this. I fear that the machines we designed are not going to have that kind of thinking built into them, that kind of hesitancy, that second thinking. I think the machines are going to be designed… The algorithms that inhabit them are going to reflect the most aggressive possible outcomes, and that’s why I fear that we move closer to human extinction in a crisis than before, and because of the time of decision-making is going to be so compressed that humans are going to have very little chance to think about this.
Lucas Perry: So, how do you view the interplay of climate change and autonomous weapons as affecting existential risk?
Michael Klare: Climate change is just going to make everything on the planet more stressful in general. It’s going to create a lot of stress, a lot of catastrophes occurring simultaneously and creating a lot of risk events happening that people are going to have to be dealing with, and they’re going to create a lot of hard, difficult choices. Let’s say you’re the president, you’re the commander in chief, and you have multiple hurricanes striking and fires striking the United States, that’s hardly an unlikely outcome, at the same time that there’s a crisis with China and Russia occurring where war would be a possible outcome. There’s a naval clash at sea in the South China Sea or something happening on the Ukraine border, and meanwhile, Nigeria is breaking apart and India and Pakistan are at the verge of war.
These are very likely situations in another 10 to 20 years if climate change proceeds the way it is. So, just the complexity of the environment, the stress that people will be under, the decisions they’re going to have to make swiftly between do we save Miami or do we save Tokyo? Do we save Los Angeles or do we save New York, or do we save London? We only have so many resources. In these conditions, I think the inclination is going to be to rely more on machines to make decisions and to carry out actions, and that I think has inherent dangers in it.
Lucas Perry: Do you and/or the Pentagon have a timeline for… How much and how fast is the instability from climate change coming?
Michael Klare: This is a progression. We’re on that path, so there’s no point at which you could say we’ve reached that level. It’s just an ever increasing level of stress.
Lucas Perry: How do you see the world in five or 10 years given the path that we’re currently on?
Michael Klare: I’m pessimistic about this, and the reason I am pessimistic is because if you go back and read the very first reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, their very first reports, and they would give a series of projections based on their estimates of the pace of greenhouse gas emissions. If they go this high, then you have these projections. If they go higher, then these projections out to 2030, 2040, 2050, we’ve all seen these charts.
So, if you go back to the first ones, basically we’re living in 2021 what they said were the worst case projections for 2040 to 2050 by and large. So, we’re moving into the danger zone. So, what I’m saying is we’re moving into the danger zone much, much faster than the most worst case scenarios that scientists were talking about 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, and if that’s the case, then we should be very, very worried about the pace at which this is occurring because we’re off the charts now from those earlier predictions of how rapidly sea level rise was occurring, desertification was occurring, heat waves. We’re living in a 2050 world now. So, where are we going to be in a 2030? We’re going to be in a 2075 world and that world was a pretty damn scary world.
Lucas Perry: All right, so I’m mindful of the time here. So, just a few more questions about messaging would be nice. So, do you think that tying existential risks to national security issues would benefit the movement towards reducing existential risks, given that climate change is elevated in some sense by the DOD taking it seriously on account of national security?
Michael Klare: So, let me explain why I wrote this book, and this is very much a product of the Trump era, but I think it’s still true today that you have a country that’s divided between environmentalists and climate deniers, and this divide has prevented forward movement in Congress to pass legislation that will make a significant difference in this country, and I believe this has to come from national level, the kind of changes we need, the massive investments in renewables and charging stations for electric vehicles, all these things require national leadership, and right now that’s impossible because of the fundamental divide between the Democrats and Republicans or denialists and environmentalist, however you want to put it. Some of my friends in the environmental community, dear friends, think if we could only get across the message that things are getting worse that those deniers will finally wake up and change their views.
I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think more scientific evidence about climate change is not going to win over more people. We’ve tried that. We’ve done everything we can to make the scientific evidence known. So, the way to win, I believe the military perspective that this is a threat to the national security of the United States of America, are you a patriotic American or not? Do you care about the security of this country or not?
This is not a matter of environmentalism or anti-environmentalism. This is about the national security of this country. Where do you stand on that? That this is a third approach that could possibly win over some segment of that population that until now has resisted action on climate change, that’s not going to listen to an environmentalist or green argument. There is evidence that this approach is making a difference, that Republicans who won’t even talk about the causes of climate change, but who acknowledge that their communities are at risk or the country is at risk on a national security basis, and therefore are willing to invest in some of the changes that are necessary for that reason. So, I do believe that making this argument, it could win over enough of that resistant population to make it possible to actually achieve forward momentum.
Lucas Perry: Do you think that relating climate change to migration issues is helpful for messaging?
Michael Klare: I’m not sure because I think people who are opposed to migration don’t care what the cause is, but I do think that it might feed into the argument that I was just making that our security would be better off by emphasizing climate change and therefore taking steps to reduce the pressures that lead climate migrants to migrate. The military certainly takes that view, so it could be helpful, but I think it’s a difficult topic.
Lucas Perry: All right, so given everything we’ve discussed here today, how would you characterize and summarize the Pentagon’s interest, view, and action on climate change and why that matters?
Michael Klare: So, now we have a new test because as I’ve indicated, we had a blackout period of four years during the Trump administration when all of this was hidden and couldn’t be discussed. So, we don’t know how much was accomplished. Now, this is an explicit priority for the Department of Defense and the defense budget, and other documents say that this is a priority for the department and the Armed Forces, and they are required to take steps to adapt to climate change and to mitigate their role in climate change.
So, we have to see how much actually is accomplished in this new period before really you can make any definitive assessment, but I think that you can see that the language adopted by the Biden administration and Lloyd Austin at the Department of Defense is so much stronger and more vigorous than what the Pentagon was saying in the Obama administration. So, even though there was a four year blackout period, there was a learning curve going on, and what they’re saying today is much more advanced and the sense of recognizing the severity of the risks posed by climate change and the necessity of making this a priority.
Lucas Perry: All right, so as we wrap up, are there any final words or anything you’d like to share that you feel is left unsaid or any parting words for the audience?
Michael Klare: As I started out, we mustn’t forget that if you asked anybody in the military what their job is, they’re going to come back to China number one. So, we shouldn’t forget that, defending against China. It’s only after you peel away the layers of how they’re going to operate in a climate altered world that all of these other concerns start spilling out, but it’s not going to be the first thing that they’re likely to say. I think that has to be clear, based on my conversations, but there is a real awareness that in fact climate change is going to have an immense impact on the operations of the military in the years ahead, and that its impact is going to grow exponentially.
Lucas Perry: All right. Well, thank you very much for coming on Michael, and for sharing all of this with us. I really appreciated your book and I recommend others check it out as well, it’s All Breaking Loose. I think it does a really good job of showing the ways in which the world is going to get worse through climate change. There’s a lot of really great examples in there. So, also the audiobook has a really great narrator, which I very much liked. So, thank you very much for coming on. If people want to check or follow you out on social media, where and how can they do that?
Michael Klare: Oh, I’m at michaelklare.com and let’s start there.
Lucas Perry: All right. Do you also have a place for you where you list publications?
Michael Klare: At that site.
Lucas Perry: At that site? Okay.
Michael Klare: And, it’s K-L-A-R-E, Michael Klare, K-L-A-R-E.
Lucas Perry: All right, thank you very much, Michael.