SUMMARY: The world is more fucked than the United States. And we’re pretty fucked, so that’s saying a lot. Perhaps there’s a way to mitigate this mess by playing upon our worst instincts as a nation and the competitiveness that drives the world. Today we take an alternative view of our response to climate change through the lens of the most dispassionate and powerful observer in the world: The U.S. Military. It’s known for decades that the planet is fucked. And they’ve been preparing in plain sight.
UNFTR Anniversary Reminder!
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Setting the Table
There are literally hundreds of narratives one could track with respect to climate change. Food insecurity, fossil fuels, water scarcity, rising sea levels, violent storms, hunger, mass migration, potential causes, political battles, and on and on. Inevitably, we’ll touch on many of these narratives and I’m confident this will be the first of many episodes in the coming years that we’ll do on climate and environmentalism.
But today we’re going to take a more narrow approach to the story as told by our military. You might be surprised, as I was, that one of the leading researchers and chroniclers of the effects of climate change is the Department of Defense. This might seem like a curious approach for a show that routinely takes our military to task, but in the end, I think - I hope - this approach makes sense.
To set the table, I want to start with an important passage from one of our Book Love resources today. It’s from All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change by Michael Klare. I think it sets things up pretty nicely.
“America’s military officials are very clear about what they see as their primary professional obligation: to defend this nation against its most dangerous adversaries, notably Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. A future in which the military services’ ability to perform this role is compromised by climate-related contingencies at home and abroad is not, therefore, one that senior officers can contemplate with ease. Rather, they view warming as a serious threat to the successful fulfillment of their primary responsibilities, and so as something that must be resisted. Fighting against global warming is not, for most of them, a question of ideological preference or political engagement. Rather, it is a matter of ensuring that the armed forces will be spared the most extreme climate contingencies imaginable, and so remain able to concentrate on Russia, China, and others at the core of their mission.”
This passage alone inspires me to dismantle so many things in the supposition of who our real enemies are, but that’s for another day. The point to take from this is just what it says. That the military is clear-eyed about the fact that global warming will have myriad catastrophic effects that will make its job more difficult and even more dangerous in the future. So that’s our jumping off point and perspective on our journey today.
“A New Ocean”
Americans apparently have a great distrust of both the government and science. That’s a pretty shitty combination if we need the government to combat climate change based upon evidence from the scientific community. But Americans sure do love their military. And somewhat unironically, this is especially true among those who have the greatest distrust for government and science. You know who you are.
But you know who the military trusts and respects? Scientists!
The following are excerpts from a U.S. Naval Report. At the end, I’ll give you an interesting and maddening factoid. Here goes:
“Several island nations... are in jeopardy of being submerged completely. In the United States, significant portions of territory would be subject to inundation.”
“In summary, nearly every aspect of the world’s political, cultural and economic interests will be affected. Basic human needs, such as water supply and quality, food production, and health conditions, are threatened within the developing nations. In some of these nations, such as Egypt, India, and Bangladesh, major segments of the populations and significant portions of their agricultural capacities exist in low lying areas or along river basins. As the climate changes, sea level rise may well inundate these areas with salt water, producing major damage to the economies, health, and quality of life in nations ill equipped to face the challenge. In some low lying coastal nations, large segments of populations may become environmental refugees, stressing neighboring nations’ resources and good will by their forced migration to safer ground.”
“In the United States, the necessary adaptive measures for response to the environmental threat will be tremendously taxing. Society, at all levels, will be affected. Climate modification may force alterations in agricultural methods and crop distribution, and threaten water supply and quality, safe regional waste management, urban infrastructure, the viability of commerce and industry in many regions, and stress the energy supply of the nation.”
“Addressing global climate change issues and effects within the United States, will be both politically uncomfortable as well as terribly expensive….”
Whew! That’s some shit right there. From the mouth of the military. The report also details what advantages - yes, advantages - come from rising sea levels and the significant loss of ice shields for submarine activity, for example. They suggest closing a vast number of current military installations around the globe and propose spending a minimum of $100 billion per year on just naval infrastructure needs for the next 30 years, in addition to support from private enterprise.
This is a report issued by the Naval War College, revealed in 2013 by Freedom of Information requests. And it’s pretty dire even though it only examined the effects of climate change from the perspective of the Navy.
Revealed in 2013 but written in …. Wait for it… wait for it…
1990. 31 years ago. In 1990 the Navy also knew New Orleans would be under water someday and recommended abandoning its base there. It knew that many island nations would disappear. And it knew that the societal effects would be calamitous and the politics highly charged.
While we’re on the subject of the Navy, I want to bring in some information via Sub Love for another Substacker who has been making the rounds on the pod and talk circuit. Adam Tooze, a respected economics professor and prolific author who publishes Chartbook on Substack - give a follow Unf*ckers and tell him Max sent you - recently put out a piece that asks some of the same shit that we’ve been talking about. Like, where the fuck is all this defense money going?
Well, dig this.
As Tooze wrote in a recent newsletter, “in December 2020, Secretary Esper took the unusual step of releasing a detailed new shipbuilding plan - BattleForce 2045 - that called for 403 crewed ships and 143 uncrewed ships by FY 2045. The heavy focus on attack submarines signals aggressive maritime intent.”
He goes on to quote a stunned CBO that did the math and projected that the Navy would spend in excess of $1 trillion on shipbuilding in the next 30 years.
Some of this should be chalked up to “spend it or lose it” theory. Every big company, organization or government is the same. Save money this year, they’ll cut your budget next year. So better get spending. But there’s more to the Navy’s requests than just “spend it or lose it”. Theirs is a specific plan based upon increasingly clear realities. Plus, if there’s no Congressional effort to minimize military spending, then fuck it, why the hell not?
As Klare notes in All Hell Breaking Loose, the military, and Navy in particular, have been operating under a rather stunning new reality. As polar ice disappears, this area is opening up to oil and natural gas extraction as well as to increased commercial shipping activity. Climate change has, in fact, created a “new ocean” that must now be protected against oil spills, illegal commerce, and geopolitical contention.
A new ocean. A new fucking ocean.
Let’s stay here for a second. Fossil fuel companies and militaries are literally jumping for joy at the prospect of uncharted waters even if access to them is only because the fucking polar ice cap is disappearing.
The only possible upside to this is that scientists are finding prehistoric fossils. So it’s only a matter of time before some jackass clones the dinosaurs, we go full Jurassic Park and they eat all of the people. Because fuck us. A new ocean.
Of course, we’re not the only ones hip to this reality. Russia has committed a significant amount of new military resources in the Arctic region to protect its interests. So you know we’re not just going to let that happen. Oh, and Canada has a say in what goes on in the new ocean as well. And for Americans who think that’s like taking your little sister to a fight, think again. You don’t want to get between the Canadians and oil.
But here’s the deal. The reason that the Navy is building tons of new submarines is because these unmanned vessels have enough firepower to take out an aircraft carrier. And, navigating surface waters is going to continue to change in the coming years. The vessels we currently utilize aren’t necessarily equipped to go the distance with Mother Nature so we’re building more resilient crafts above and below the water, and will require new installations around the world to contend with changing sea patterns.
This much is for sure. Unf*ckers, I do believe Santa Claus is fucked.
The Navy isn’t the only one concerned about coastal installations or fighting new maritime battles for dwindling planetary resources. The Pentagon published National Security and the Threat of Climate Change in 2007 under Bush. In it they asserted the coming decades would include extreme weather events, drought, flooding, sea level rise, retreating glaciers, habitat shifts, and the increased spread of life-threatening diseases. The following year the CIA released a report titled National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030 in which they predicted, “intra and interstate conflict particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources.”
The Department of Defense in 2014 under Obama authored the Department of Defense 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, stating, “Climate Change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.” Even the Trump administration DoD released updated versions of prior reports, though it was forced to exclude direct references to human impact on climate.
The military’s interpretation of climate change is as cold and clinical as one might expect. And it’s part of what I appreciate about this approach. The absence of emotion makes it almost more terrifying and the fact that they are conditioned to boil everything down to the most basic and stupid terms imaginable for sitting members of Congress means that their information is rather accessible.
One concept they regularly explore when modeling scenarios for the future is something called a threat multiplier. It’s never a singular event that spooks them. It’s a confluence. For example, the nexus of food-water scarcity will cause an increase in food prices in an already high demand environment to feed an ever-growing global population.
Add existing poverty, unstable government systems and extreme weather events that disrupt global supply chains and wreak havoc on infrastructure and it totals mass migration, uprisings and violence.
So when the military talks about threat multipliers, it’s considering related events in totality. They don’t speak in fantastical terms of, “oh global warming will kill us all.” They draw logical and logistical conclusions from prior experience, current events and abundant data sets. And apart from dialing back the manmade claims during the Trump years, they don’t prevaricate. And they don’t make it political either. All of which makes it strange that one half of the country refuses to believe in science, especially when that same half is so unabashedly pro-military.
Either Way… Deadly and Expensive
So it’s not just foreign threats. With the Russians potentially stealing oil from the new ocean, submarine warfare is suddenly back in fashion. I’m looking forward to the reboot of The Hunt for Red October.
Threat multipliers manufacturing extreme crises abroad that will lead to mass migrations and instability. Here at home, the military’s dance card is filling up quickly.
Recall just a few years ago, in the span of a few short weeks Harvey, Irma and Maria smashed U.S. territories from Houston to Puerto Rico with the military being scrambled to all corners for rescue and recovery missions. If not for the brave military personnel and personal paper towel heroics of Donald Trump, things could have been far worse. But the military is designed to get in and get out. Unless of course we’re overthrowing a nation, then we might stay a while.
Point being, the United States military is the world’s first responder when it comes to devastating climate events. The enormous resources it takes to scramble several thousand personnel along with the equipment and supplies needed to save lives and stabilize infrastructure is massive. Apart from the visible rescue missions such as these, there are very real, ongoing and immediate concerns that will upend significant parts of our economy. Like the rapidly depleting Colorado River.
NOTE FROM 99: A little pod love on this one. Check out the recent episode of Slate’s “What Next TBD” titled “Can This River Be Saved?” They do an excellent job of breaking down the impact of climate change on this important water source!
These are more than potential costs of inaction. Every year we will need to put more and more aside to deal with the fallout of weather events and that’s just here in the United States. Across the world, the situation is even more dire, something that plays into our conclusion a bit later.
As is customary on UNFTR, we should talk a little about the economics of climate change because the kind of economic fallout that we’re facing has a lot to do with the potential threat our military is modeling.
The most recent IPCC report - this is the U.N. commissioned International Panel on Climate Change - caught even some environmentalists and close observers off guard because it spoke some hard truths about aspects of climate change that are already beyond repair and how others are a full decade ahead of where scientists originally calculated.
We’ll rattle off some key findings of the report before tying this all together.
Based on the current trajectory and assuming the Paris Accord goals will not be met, the largest economic impact they foresee is the loss of 18% global GDP by 2050. For context, Unf*ckers, the revised estimates for 2020 - the global pandemic where nearly every nation in the world halted and supply chains were severed - is a 4.5% drop in global GDP. Within two generations, the IPCC estimates the impact will be four times this.
The impact of the loss will be widespread as well. According to the report, the range of negative impact is most severe in Asian economics, losing anywhere between 5.5% and 26.5% GDP by 2050.
China in particular is at risk of losing nearly 24% of its GDP in a severe scenario compared to forecast losses of 10% for the U.S., Canada and the UK and 11% for Europe.
Politicians often talk about not having the money to battle climate change to the degree that scientists warn is necessary. We’re living through this right now with Joe Manchin cock blocking our boy Bernie on a reconciliation bill that is, as we’ve identified, PITOTWIU, but it’s a start at the very least. But the flip side of the coin is often ignored.
According to the World Economic Forum, the risk of inaction in financial terms could be up to $1.7 trillion per year globally by the middle of this decade, escalating to - get this - $30 trillion a year by 2075, according to estimates by 738 economists surveyed from around the world.
So, yeah. Doing nothing is deadly and expensive. Doing something is less deadly and probably less expensive.
Some Good News?
So let’s talk about how the military’s role is evolving both in terms of mitigation and response, but there’s actually some good news to point to here. Klare astutely points out in his book something that is tantamount, in my opinion, to understanding the military’s take on climate change as a whole.
The military is built to respond to existing, perceived and potential threats. And so it models real world scenarios built on available proof and evidence and anticipates responses that will produce a positive outcome in terms of national security and our common defense. It is not built to mitigate. It is not a diplomatic or policy driven institution. That’s the role of the government.
That being said, a shift began to occur under Obama but driven by the Pentagon. While the military doesn’t always see itself as a policy driver outside of its own stated purpose and interests, it has come around to the fact that it has historically been an enormous user of fossil fuels and source of emissions. So to the extent that it can control its contribution to manmade climate change - which make no mistake, it believes human activity in the post-industrial era has significantly contributed to climate change - then it can reduce its contribution. Furthermore, it believes that in doing so it’s also building a stronger and more resilient military that no longer relies on costly and inefficient mechanisms of energy production.
“By the end of fiscal year 2015, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available, the Pentagon could report substantial progress in the achievement of its goals. All told, energy intensity at stateside DoD installations had fallen by 20 percent over 2003 levels, while the energy supplied by renewables had been increased by 12.4 percent. As a result of these and other efforts, net greenhouse gas emissions by the DoD had been reduced by 12 precent of 2003 levels - a decline much greater than that achieved by many other large organizations and the nation as a whole.”
So let me be clear about saying there’s some good news to report. This is sort of like saying, “hey the school bully hasn’t beaten me up in months,” when he’s really just been in the gym, taking steroids and getting ready to pummel you in new creative ways. But what the military’s new goals demonstrate is that large scale changes in behavior are possible with the right funding and direction.
Now, here’s where the cynic in me comes out. At the end of the 9/11 episode I suggested and teased that the reason there is no willingness to cut the military budget from the current post-engagement and obscene levels is because it hasn’t just been preparing to fight skirmishes in the desert. It’s possible that behind it all, military leaders and policymakers collectively recognize that these engagements have also provided cover for a buildup against the greatest existential threat of human existence. But in a very selfish way.
Maybe, we’re preparing to defend natural resources in the “new ocean”.
Maybe, we’re preparing to meet the challenges of a mass humanitarian exodus from island nations in the Caribbean.
Maybe we’re preparing for more frequent and consequential extreme weather events domestically.
Maybe we’re preparing for the eventual global economic crisis that will precipitate the collapse of underdeveloped and politically unstable nations in Africa and the Middle East.
Maybe we’re preparing to defend precious and dwindling water resources that will force mass migration and starve millions.
Likely that if any or all the above is true, it’s not for any altruistic reason…
Our dollars are already being poured into these efforts to prepare for this future that is considered increasingly inevitable by scientists, military leaders and policymakers, even the ones that do not believe in the human impact of climate change. Whether they truly don’t believe in it or they’re just pandering to constituents who have been brainwashed into believing that there’s no scientific evidence or consensus that this is true no longer really matters. What matters is that we have buy-in from the branch of our country that kind of runs shit nowadays.
So how do we, as progressives, deal with this information? Continue to wring our virtual hands on social media and carry signs at rallies and wear “protect your mother” shirts? Or borrow a page from the rightwing fuckheads that got us into this mess and unite with the common interests of the military?
Bernie and company are so busy looking for ways to convince coal sucking dicknuggets like Joe Manchin that the planet is worth saving. Fuck him. Fuck all of them.
I’m going to opt for the latter in the interest of the time we have left. And I don’t mean time left reading this essay. I mean as a species.
These military reports demonstrate something very clearly. They knew it was coming. But the reason they’re prepared for the inevitable isn’t because we’re trying to turn back the tide of climate change and save the planet. It’s because they know we’ll do better in the climate apocalypse than most other nations by virtue of our extremely diverse and resource rich land mass.
The Machiavellian bottom line here is that we’re going to be fine. That’s why they don’t care. That’s why they’re preparing a future to protect our installations abroad while fighting to protect the homeland from mass migration. They’re fucked, we’re not. That’s what these reports say loud and clear so of course there’s no political will to battle for the future of the planet. Because when it’s over, we’re going to inherit what’s left.
That’s the dirty little open secret they’ve been operating under for the past 30 years.
We’re going to be the last man standing in this fight against climate change. It’s true. We can withstand a 10% decline in GDP. But China can’t withstand a 25% decline. We can afford to lose the Caribbean islands. But Asia can’t afford to lose Bangladesh and Vietnam and large swaths of the Chinese coastal regions. We can withstand internal migration from Nevada, Texas and California but several Middle Eastern and African countries won’t be as fortunate.
As the world transitions from fossil fuel, demand will collapse and cripple the economy of Russia. And Equatorial Guinea. And Venezuela. And Iran. And so on. But fuck ‘em. By then we’ll be on our way to a renewable future in the United States.
Sure, mass migration will place enormous strain on Europe, but that’s not our problem! We’ll turn away your boats and planes. We won’t need to build walls - because that was always stupid. Instead we’ll use technology and surveillance to further militarize any border crossings.
This is the hand we got. A military that is virtually unopposed in its request for $750 billion per year and growing. A country of people who - at this moment at least - have no interest in going back to war with anyone anytime soon. Several really smart politicians in the progressive caucus that understand the imminent threat of climate change and several insanely dimwitted politicians who only know how to wave a flag and claim they support the troops. This is our hand. So let’s play it.
Let’s support the troops.
Let’s keep the funding in place. In fact, have more. Have as much as you want.
And we’ll take your reports and the science you rely on at face value to close as many of our extraneous coastal military bases in danger of flooding around the world. And while we’re at it, let’s support those troops by bringing them home and set them to work in a domestic military corp of sorts that is designed to shore up the homeland. A military that harnesses the power of the fucking sun to demonstrate its lasting and overwhelming strength.
Bernie and company are so busy looking for ways to convince coal sucking dicknuggets like Joe Manchin that the planet is worth saving. Fuck him. Fuck all of them.
The way to get this done is to partner with the military and use their funding, and science, and technology, and people, and public support and sheer force of will to help us craft the future we need. These are literally all of the ingredients necessary.
The long bet we have no choice to make is that our military-style response will spark the competitive nature in the Chinese, Africans, Europeans and Russians to beat us to the punch. If we sell this as a dire matter of national security, hopefully they’ll do the same. Don’t pose it as a threat to the planet. Just let everyone know they’re fucked and we’re not and that if they try to come here when the world falls apart we won’t let them in. That we’re willing to let them all burn, drown and starve.
We don’t need a green new deal. We already have one. We’ve just been playing the wrong hand.
Strange bedfellows, indeed. The Earth has all the time in the world. We don’t.
Here endeth the lesson.
IPCC- Summary for Policymakers
Institute for Policy Integrity- Gauging Economic Consensus on Climate Change
Center for Climate and Security- Chronology of Military and Intelligence Concerns About Climate Change
World Economic Forum- This is how climate change could impact the global economy
The Black Vault- 1990 U.S. Naval Report
Adam Tooze- Chartbook
Michael T. Klare- All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change
Slate- What Next TBD
Global Optimism- Outrage and Optimism