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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

How the US Military is Preparing for Climate Change - The Green Line

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Whilst debates around climate change still rage on US TV, the US Military has been quietly preparing for the now inevitable. Planners are now acutely aware of just how quick climate change is coming down upon us, and how dramatically it will change the geopolitics of the planet. What war games are the military running in preparation for this? Which theatres do they project to be the most impacted? Is the US ready for a worst-case scenario? We ask our panel of experts.

This is part one of our special five part series focusing on The Geopolitics of Climate Change


Episode Overview:

Part 1: A Creeping Catastrophe (5:31)

  • Sharon Burke begins our conversation by talking about the direct impact of climate change to the mission of the US military, including direct impacts through territorial changes creating new conflict points, as well as indirect events such as civil unrest and migration from affected areas.

  • The conversation points out the role of the National Guard being used year-round to respond to disasters in the United States. How do those responses affect the national security and warfighting capacity of the US? We also note the global impact of climate change impacts all strategic theatres for the US.

  • Burke points out the critical role of bases and equipment to support military capacity and the need to ensure those assets are future-proofed to be resilient to changing conditions. The conversation notes the trickiness of transitioning to renewable resources in the defence space, including for petrostates.

Part 2: Threat Multipliers (24:52)

  • John Conger discusses the difficulties of a never-ending extreme weather event season and the impacts on all countries, but especially those without the resources and planning required to respond effectively, creates a 'threat multiplier' to the environment.

  • We discuss the US preparations towards climate resilience, including the defence sector, which has been protected somewhat from the polarised political environment around the issue of climate change, and thus, created a situation in which the military has been a domestic leader in this space.

  • Conger unpacks the prospect of the US military going carbon neutral and the challenges of aircraft emissions, while noting that sustainable fuels will play a role in answering those challenges.

  • We turn towards the resilience of supply chains both in the US and across the globe, which as demonstrated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, can be fragile in the face of conflict and environmental pressures. We conclude by discussing the importance of the US's role in helping to solidify allies' ability to respond to climate change as well as guarantee security from climate conflicts in geopolitical flashpoints.

Part 3: War Games (53:40)

  • Col. Larry Wilkerson notes the difficult political environment in the US around the issue of climate change and the fluctuations in the difference forces of the US military in responding to climate change over the years.

  • He notes the strain on military budgets to both respond to climate events while still maintaining regular operations. We talk specifically about the impacts of migration caused by climate change and the enormous strain placed on not just the US but on nations across the globe.

  • In a future with increasing climate conflicts, we talk about the difficulties for the US to maintain security across the world and what would be required to mobilise a response akin to World War II to climate change. We also talk about the need to mobilise other nations in response to those situations.

  • Col. Wilkerson talks about the concept of a Climate Corps as an auxiliary force to assist disaster relief and climate mitigation work domestically and potentially internationally.


Episode Guests:

Sharon Burke

  • President of Ecospherics

  • Member of the Climate Security Expert Network

  • Burke served in the Obama administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, a new office that worked to improve the energy security of U.S. military operations

John Conger

  • Director Emeritus at the Centre for Climate & Security

  • Senior Advisor to the Council on Strategic Risks

  • Senior US Advisor to the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS)

  • Previously served as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) at the U.S. Department of Defense

Col. Larry Wilkerson

  • Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell (2002 - 2005)

  • Former Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff

  • Before his service at the State Deparment, Col. Wilkerson served in the US Army for 31 years


The Red Line's Climate Security Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of climate change.


The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations

Daniel Yergin

States and Nature: The Politics of Climate Change

Joshua W. Bushy

The Uninhabitable Earth

David Wallace-Wells


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This production was brought to you by The Red Line and Mission Climate Project.



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