The Pentagon will for the first time rank global warming as a destabilizing force, adding fuel to conflict and putting US troops at risk around the world, in a major strategy review to be presented to Congress tomorrow. The Quadrennial Defense Review, prepared by the Pentagon to update Congress on its security vision, will direct military planners to keep track of the latest climate science, and to factor global warming into their long term strategic planning.
"While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world," said a draft of the review seen by the Guardian.
Heatwaves and freak storms could put increasing demand on the US military to respond to humanitarian crises or natural disaster. But troops could feel the effects of climate change even more directly, the draft says.
More than 30 US bases are threatened by rising sea levels. It ordered the Pentagon to review the risks posed to installations, and to combat troops by a potential increase in severe heatwaves and fires.
The review's release coincides with a sharpening focus in the American defense establishment about global warming - even though polls last week showed the public increasingly less concerned.
The CIA late last year established a center to collect intelligence on climate change. Earlier this month, CIA officials sent emails to environmental experts in Washington seeking their views on climate change impacts around the world, and how the agency could keep tabs on what actions countries were taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The CIA has also restarted a program - scrapped by George Bush - that allowed scientists and spies to share satellite images of glaciers and Arctic sea ice.
That suggests climate change is here to stay as a topic of concern for the Pentagon.
The Pentagon, in acknowledging the threat of global warming, will now have to factor factor climate change into war game exercises and long-term security assessments of badly affected regions such as the Arctic, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.
Military planners will have to factor climate change into war game exercises and long-term security assessments of badly affected regions such as the Arctic, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia..
"The leadership of the Pentagon has very strongly indicated that they do consider climate change to be a national security issue," said Christine Parthemore, an analyst at the Center for A New American Security who has been studying the Pentagon's evolving views on climate change. "They are considering climate change on par with the political and economic factors as the key drivers that are shaping the world."
Awareness of climate change and its impact on threat levels and military capability had been slowly percolating through the ranks since 2008 when then Senators Hillary Clinton and John Warner pushed the Pentagon to look specifically at the impact of global warming in its next long-term review.
But the navy was already alive to the potential threat, with melting sea ice in the Arctic opening up a new security province. The changing chemistry of the oceans, because of global warming, is also playing havoc with submarine sonar, a report last year from the CNAS warned.
US soldiers and marines, meanwhile, were getting a hard lesson in the dangers of energy insecurity on the battlefield, where attacks on supply convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq inflicted heavy casualties.
"Our dependence on fuel adds significant cost and puts US soldiers and contractors at risk," said Dorothy Robyn, deputy Undersecretary of Defense for the Environment. "Energy can be a matter of life and death and we have seen dramatically in Iraq and Afghanistan the cost of heavy reliance on fossil fuels."
She told a conference call on Friday the Pentagon would seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions from non-combat operations by 34% from 2008 levels by 2020, in line with similar cuts by the rest of the federal government.
In addition to the threat of global warming, she said the Pentagon was concerned that US military bases in America were vulnerable because of their reliance on the electric grid to cyber attack and overload in case of a natural disaster.
The US air force, in response, has built up America's biggest solar battery array in Nevada, and is testing jet fighter engines on biofuels. The Marine Corps may soon start drilling its own wells to eliminate the need to truck in bottled water in response to recommendations from a task force on reducing energy use in a war zone.
But not all defense department officials have got on board, and Parthemore said she believes it could take some time to truly change the military mindset.
Parthemore writes of an exchange on a Department of Defense list-serv in December 2008 about whether global warming exists. It ends with one official writing: "This is increasingly shrill and pedantic. Moreover, it's becoming boring."