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War-Gaming Climate Change
This image released by the US Navy Sunday Jan. 2, 2005 helicopters depart from the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) enroute to Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia. The helicopters are transporting supplies, bringing in disaster relief teams and supporting humanitarian airlifts to tsunami-stricken coastal regions. The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is currently operating in the Indian Ocean off the waters of Indonesia and Thailand. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy photo)

Helicopters depart from the USS Abraham Lincoln enroute to Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, bringing in disaster relief teams and supporting humanitarian airlifts to tsunami-stricken coastal regions in January 2005. (AP/U.S. Navy photo)

Climate change and its consequences have for years been the cause of green warriors and environmentalists.

Now climate change is getting the attention of real warriors — the Pentagon and U.S. Defense Department — as a national security issue.

They’re war-gaming the implications of global warming: Drought, famine, rising seas, populations on the move. Island airstrips underwater. Naval bases, too.

Some say it’s politics driving defense. But the Pentagon is serious about it.

This hour, On Point: War-gaming global warming.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from New York is Andrew Revkin, environment reporter for The New York Times and author of “The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World.” He writes the Dot Earth blog, where he recently offered some context on a New York Times article by his colleague John Broder about climate change as a growing concern for the Pentagon.

Joining us from the Pentagon is Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy. She is leading the drafting of the Pentagon’s upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review, due out in February 2010, reporting to Congress on strategic objectives and potential military threats.

Joining us from Washington is Sharon Burke, vice president for natural security at the Center for a New American Security. She has directed an international climate change war game and other energy security projects in conjunction with experts in and out of the military.

Joining us from Arlington, Virginia, is Gen. Paul Kern, a retired four-star Army general. He was commanding general of the United States Army Materiel Command from 2001 to 2004 and serves now on the military advisory board of CNA, a non-profit research organization which operates the Institute for Public Research and the Center for Naval Analyses. In the last two years, CNA has issued two seminal reports on climate change, energy and national security. He is president and chief operating officer of AM General, which supplies the military with Humvee vehicles.

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  • Ellen Dibble

    An economist, Robert Pollin, at UMass Amherst, was on our local NPR today. He views our current war as for the planet, against global warming. His new article is on the web, “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities,” 95 pages. See also his pieces at peri.umass.edu, Political Economy Research Initiatives. There is a breakdown state by state of cap and trade; I see by Pollin, “Green Prosperity, how Clean Energy Policies Can Fight Poverty and Raise Living Standards in the United States,” and “The economic Benefits of … Clean Energy.” etc.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Where is everybody? China puts up something like 10 million housing units a year; if they were seen to wreck a protective global energy initiative, what could a defense department do? Does one wipe a noncompliant superpower off the map because it doesn’t get with the program?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Do populations lacking water, lacking food, getting swamped pose a risk in the model of Germany after World War I? Desperate and dangerous? In search of mad plans?

  • Jerry Brown

    In addition to climate change and geopolitical considerations, today’s show reveals another cost of burning fossil fuels.

    Why are we so resistant to having the users of the fossil fuel product pay for these costs?

    The only direct solution is to simultaneously increase the carbon tax and decrease other taxes.

  • Joe B.

    More and more studies are proving that climate change is greatly over-hyped. Of course Goldman Sachs and Al Gore are pushing global-warming hard as they have secured the rights via the U.S. goverment to trade and sell green-house gas emission limits under “cap and trade”. They’re going to make a fortune at the expense of millions of Americans as energy and fuel prices will increase substantially.

  • pm

    This climate shift remains the most important issue, since it effects all life on earth. Until each individual, each town, state, city, country realizes this and changes their attitudes and behaviors commensurately, we and all nations will continue to waste precious time and energy battling differing views and options. Until each individual et al. realizes that everyone is interdependent, and crucial to the health and well-being of the whole, conflict will continue.
    Those who continue to take a stance that the degradation of the elements of space, air, fire, water and earth have no impact on all aspects of ilfe, are merely reflecting their sad ignorance of the situation and deserve compassion.
    Everyone else can make vast changes in all aspects of their lives to offset the massive challenges that we face ecologically. The irony (or not) is that said change will bring the balance of the other challenges that are asking for help now, i.e. economy, health etc….

  • Putney Swope

    Joe B. Really? So all those island in the Maldives that are sinking is hype. The huge glacier in Greenland that is melting at an unprecedented rate is hype. The glacier that is the source of the Ganges is also melting at an alarming rate. More hype? The ice flows in arctic are melting earlier and faster every year. More hype?

    Both polar caps are shrinking. More hype?

  • http://winslowmyers.com WINSLOW MYERS


  • Mark

    We’re all in this together – all of humanity.

    How does military involvement in solving climate change address winning hearts and minds?

    Or, is it simply protecting the military’s perceptions of security?

    Thanks You

  • pm

    In other words, when our priority is in place, which is to purify and protect the elements, life will remain rich and magnificent. It sounds like our military and govenment realize this and will take the proper measures to carry the nation in the right direction.

  • Jerry Brown

    A response to Joe B.

    You are questioning the degree to which burning fossil fuels will harm the environment. There is certainly some uncertainty there.

    The question for you is which activity do you think has higher external costs: burning fossil fuels or working for a living. Right now the average American pays a whole lot of taxes (income, FICA, etc.) because they work, and very little taxes for burning fossil fuels. Maybe the effects of climate change are somewhat overhyped, but the signal that our current tax system is giving is that working for a living is the villain.

  • Greg

    The other day I was watching a horrible show on MTV, wherein Brooke Hogan’s friend was annoying the hell out of her (and me), hassling Brooke about such things as taking a long shower or turning the AC on. (In Florida!)

    For a lay person I’ve taken a close a look at the science and I find it’s as clear as mud. There are so many arguments and refutations. It is clear that the earth’s climate oscillates naturally and it’s possible that human activity has an impact. The rather bold thought behind the “climate change” (formerly “global warming”) movement is that we can override/minimize the natural forces we may or may not have set in motion over the past couple centuries of polluting.

    Whether the weather gets worse or better, the conversation today informs us what the subject of future wars will be.

  • Putney Swope

    One more question for the Joe b’s of the world.
    If your wrong about the notion that global warming is hype we are doomed. If the global warming science is wrong, well what will be the out come. More conservation, better sustainable solutions for production and energy consumption. The development of new technologies.
    Better designed cities. The promotion of local food production. Good bye bananas…

    Hmmmm… choices, choices.

  • Joshua DaPonte

    I have heard several lectures from scientists and historians alike on the consequences of climate change. Most notably Gwynne Dyer on TVO’s Big Ideas. What worries about the discussion presented by Gen. Kern is that the U.S. seems to be approaching climate change most realistically from a military perspective. As a caller mentioned, political discussion had about the issue center around whether climate change is a fallacy or not. The people who, in my opinion, have the greatest ability to affect the issue are private owners of industry, and politicians who can institute mandates against said industry to clean-up their act. To approach climate change as preparation for a storm or disaster, as Gen. Kern suggested, seems to downplay the effects that it will have on our world. If we are to best prepare for this alteration in climate, we must consider an alteration in the way we leave, the amount we consume, and national policy on environmentalism.

  • Mark S.

    I have not heard this hour yet, given that I hear it delayed on WHAD. However, if none of the guests have mentioned the other elephant in the room having to do with the use of fossil fuels, allow me.

    Peak oil is here, or just about here. It has its deniers, just like climate change, but it is real. Only the timing is under debate. The peak is inevitable, it is as accepted by the majority of serious petroleum geologists as climate change is among serious climate scientists, and it will provide the benighted Planet Earth with yet another motivation for war. Foundering economic and military powers will posture for the remaining supplies of cheap petroleum. Production of petroleum-based fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and a myriad of other essentials will slow or become prohibitively expensive. The transportation network, and the long supply lines that keep Wal-Mart and other big-box distributors afloat, will begin to unravel. Even the production of alternative energy technologies, like solar panels, fuel cells and windmills, is currently petroleum-intensive.

    Likely, as the full impact of a radically changed industrial model becomes apparent, the natives will become restless. The era of the “3,000-mile Caesar Salad,” as James Kuntzler puts it, will end. And, of course, climate change will still be with us … giving us all the worst of both worlds — scarcity of the fuels that keep our civilization afloat and the by-products of the fuels burned to date in keeping our civilization afloat.

    Ironically, one scientist I read some time back said not to sweat global warming (pun intended) because we would likely run out of accessible petroleum, in effect causing industrial shutdown, before CO2 levels rise to catastrophic levels. Coal? Well, yeah, but don’t the trains that transport it run on diesel? What about the mining equipment that digs it out?

    I greatly fear that the coming events of the 21st Century will make us all nostalgic for the 20th, despite its unrelenting blood and misery. Some of the writers I have read seriously argue that the 21st Century will see the end of global civilization. I pray they are wrong.

  • Joe B.

    To Putney Swope: Nobody wants to breathe polluted air or drink dirty water, but “cap and trade” is a huge fraud that’s going to raise energy and fuel costs without any positive effect on the eviorment. Al Gore lives in a 20,000 square foot house, he flies in private jets. How green is that? Al Gore is a charlatan who is using false pent up fears about global waring to fatten his bank account.

  • Bob B.

    I was a bit upset when the first guest was allowed, unchallenged by the host, to equate “doing nothing” with a Gore style response to Global Warming. That’s just wrong. And to Joe B. et al, maybe you should take the information from right wing propagandists with a grain of salt. There may be hope for you yet, since you’re listening to, and participating in this program. I do congratulate you on that. But it sounds like you’ve bought in to the anger rousing misinformation from those who truly profit (hugely) on stirring this pot.

  • Putney Swope

    Forget about Al Gore, he’s one person. At least he’s trying. The cap and trade issue is one that needs to be unpacked. The deals with this being used as a commodity are not looking as if they are really designed to help in the reduction of carbon.

    Personally I think we, the world are going fail at this endevor. It might be too late already. Most of the blame can be put on the American people.

  • Bob B.

    Having now read the comments by Mark S. about Peak Oil’s effects on this topic, I’d like to add this, perhaps more on-topic than my last post. There is a long history of innovative developments coming from the military which achieve a second and often better use in civilian society, and which leaves me hopeful there will be support (Finally!) for strong development of many different alternative energy methods of not only transportation, but production of materials, machines, food, etc… Methods that are truly sustainable, and socially just. Perhaps humanity, and all of Creation can reach the predicted peaceful and stable period very soon.

  • Shaman

    Human beings probably do not affect global climate.

    Volcanic dust in the upper atmosphere is what naturally cools the earth.

    The unusual lack of volcanoes over the past two centuries has been the cause of ‘global warming’.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Next time an Ice Age creeps up on planet earth due to umbrellas of volcano ash floating around in the atmosphere, rather than a major extinction, wiping out fauna and flora high and low, the human race may just find themselves pre-equipped for what will at that time be a crisis, an unanticipated sudden event for which we could not without preparation, have hopes of responding to effectively.
    Pre-equipped how? Oh, by learning how to control planetary temperatures, not just how to heat the planet but how to cool it; it will be a useful spin-off, if we manage to get through this century.

  • Mark S.

    Bob B., we may already be out of time to develop the liquid fuels at a scale needed to maintain civilization (and population) at the current status quo.

    I invite you to read The Hirsch Report, led by Dr. Robert Hirsch at the commission of the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004 and 2005.


    In short, Hirsch makes quite clear that this is a “liquid fuels crisis” and not an “energy crisis” per se. Also that the world is not running out of oil, just oil in a quantity and price that civilization can bear. Fair enough, but just as ominous. Also, the team cites several scenarios, from initiating mitigation protocols decades from the peak (we’re past that now) up to the arrival of peak, extrapolating the increasingly severe implications.

    The irony is that this report was commissioned by the D.O.E. during the tenure of one of the most anti-science administrations we have ever had, which is probably why it was buried in plain sight.

    Don’t even get me started on the “transient industrial pulse” idea offered by some theorists, i.e. fossil fuel-driven industrial civilization cannot endure more than 150 years. Oil first drilled in Pennsylvania in the 1860s, now the early 2000s. Uh-oh…

    Finally, a lot of people have uncritical faith in the ability of science to always pull a deus ex machina out of its hat just in time to save us. Given the scale of the problem and the speed with which terminal decline in oil production may progress if Saudi Arabia is not being straight with its reserve claims (what do you think?), we could be entering a crisis the likes of which the human species has never seen.

    Of course, I could be wrong. God, I hope I’m wrong. Dead wrong. I just know what I read…

    P.S. — This post is not as off topic as it appears, unless you think that a Post-Hydrocarbon World is going to be more peaceful than a Globally Warming World. I think it will be worse.

  • pm

    Dear Shaman,
    That’s excellent. However, I wonder if the ash-cloud would just trap all the toxins in the inner atmosphere and cook us faster?
    Regardless, I’m sure Dear Mother Nature will take care of herself fully regardless of the folly of us bi-peds. :)

  • http://openforum.com.au Daniel

    An important reminder that climate change affects us all dramatically. Often many people assume that older people won’t have to deal with the adverse effects of climate change as it will be after their time, but there’s a good blog article about how that isn’t necessarily true: http://openforum.com.au/content/3-reasons-why-older-people-should-care-about-climate-change-action

  • http://pcillu101.blogspot.com Danny Bloom

    What they also need to “game” are “POLAR CITIES” for survivors of global warming 500 years from now or earlier. Mr Revkin has written about polar cities with images on his Dot Earth blog, take a look at google. The CIA should be studying these ideas and images.

  • http://northwardho.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-cia-looking-into-idea-of-climate.html Danny Bloom

    Is the CIA and the Homeland Security Dept and other security agencies around the world looking into the idea of climate refuges for climate refugees in the distant future, when it’s MAD MAX meets THE ROAD? Inquiring minds want to know.
    My sources in the ”polar cities project ” community worldwide tell me:
    1) Sure, the CIA is looking at mass migration scenarios and their potential to
    destabilize various countries. In fact, though we haven’t read it (and it’s
    probably classified so we can’t), we’re willing to bet that their latest
    estimate, which prompted the NY Times article in August [and the blog post on Andrew Revkin's very good DOT EARTH blog there] deals with that subject among others.
    2) CIA estimates do not attempt to look more than about 20-30 years into
    the future.
    For two reasons:
    the variables are so enormous that one
    can’t really reliably predict events beyond 20 years or so;
    and 2)
    even if
    you could, the policy-makers who are the “customers” for CIA estimates are
    mostly elected officials who could “give a damn” (unfortunately) about
    what’s going to happen 20-30 years hence, because they will be long out of
    office by then. And it’s not just the politicians. It’s the public in our
    democracy. Do they REALLY care about the impact of climate change 30 years
    down the road. They do not. That’s why we do not think that we will react as a species until it’s already upon us and it will take 1-3
    centuries to reverse.

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