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  September 11, 2017

Is the Military Prepared for Climate Crisis?


The effects of climate change will increase inequality and create conflicts across borders, while the U.S. military will to have to spend more money and resources on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, says Col. Larry Wilkerson
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biography

Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.


transcript

Is the Military Prepared for Climate Crisis?Sharmini Peries: It's the Real News Network, I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. If you live in the U.S., it is not news that we have been hit by two devastating hurricanes in the last two weeks.

First, Hurricane Harvey brought extreme flooding into Texas last week, and this was then followed by Hurricane Irma that hit Florida and many adjacent states. While these devastations have been extremely well-covered hour after hour on corporate news networks, you will hardly find the words climate change among the coverage. Little attention is paid to the connection between climate change or the level of preparedness for such events, even if reporters talk about preparedness or responding to the crisis, they talk about it in terms of this immediate crisis we are dealing with and not whether we are prepared for ongoing devastations of this nature in the future.

The kind of extreme weather events we are seeing today have been predicted by scientists that do climate change modeling and over the last several decades, they have presented bigger and bigger data sets that suggests that the frequency of these events is to be expected. So, then, how are we dealing with these weather events from a climate change and a national security point of view?

That is a topic we're going to take up today with Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Wilkerson is the former chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell. He is now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and a regular contributor here on the Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

Col. Larry Wilkerson: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

Sharmini Peries: So Larry, I would like to start off with a part of a statement that president Donald Trump made on Sunday.

Donald Trump: Hurricane Irma, which looks like it's going to be a really bad one, really bad. But we're prepared. We're as prepared as you can be for such an event. Property is replaceable, but lives are not. And safety has to come first. Don't worry about it. Just get out of its way. Together, we will restore, recover, and rebuild. We will do it quickly.

Sharmini Peries: So, Larry, President Trump said we are as prepared as we can be for this kind of event. How do you respond to that?

Col. Larry Wilkerson: I suppose in a tactical sense, that is to say, the immediate sense of today and tomorrow and yesterday, we probably are, having been through Hurricane Andrew in Florida, for example, and Sandy on the east coast, and so forth, and so we probably are as prepared as we could be in that sense.

In a long term, I think we are very poorly prepared, and we're gonna pay for that if we don't take some more action soon. And just one component, for example, of what is happening to the planet today, sea rise, is going to haunt coastal communities all across the globe. Countries like Bangladesh, for example, may lose as much as 20-25% of their land mass. Places like Florida and like Norfolk, Virginia, where the East Coast has its largest shipyards for the military, are gonna take some real blows.

And this, especially the latter that I mentioned, has some real serious national security implications, immediate ones, like, for example, aircraft carriers in Port Norfolk, but also long-term ones, because the U.S. military is going to have to spend more and more money, more and more resources totally on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as we see incidents happening around the globe with a frequency, something like seven or eight or even 10 times as often as they used to.

So-called '100-year storms,' for example. Typhoons in the Pacific, hurricanes in the Atlantic, will be every decade instead of every 100 years. And the military's aware of this; this military's very aware of this and doing planning for it. I don't see that kind of planning elsewhere in the government, though.

Sharmini Peries: Larry, with more and more climate denials at the helm of the Trump administration, I'm glad to hear that the, at least the military here is aware of the climate crisis and what they might to have to do in order to prepare for it. Give us a sense of what they're doing to tackle climate change and climate crises before us.

Col. Larry Wilkerson: The military's very prepared. I won't say prepared; they're very aware of it and they're trying to get prepared. If there is an impediment to that, it is the U.S. Congress and essentially their recalcitrance and even stupidity in regards to recognizing climate change, and recognizing more than just amelioration, which is of course, like in Norfolk you would build a very expensive sea wall to try and keep the water out for another decade or two or whatever.

And the Congress will support that up to a point but they're not supportive of anything that recognizes that mankind is contributing to climate change, and to this sea rise phenomenon and other things associated with it. So, Sharmini, what I've found is happening, is most of the governors in the states and the legislatures in the states, to a certain extent, and certainly the people in the states, have more or less have written off Washington as not necessary, not cognizant of what's happening, politically dysfunctional, can't do anything really about climate change, and so the states are moving out.

They're moving out rapidly, swiftly. They're adopting solar, they're adopting wind power. They're moving away from fossil fuels. I was just briefed in one working group that the United States has no plans, no state has any plans to build another coal-fired electrical plant, power plant.

They are building other things like windmills and solar arrays and so forth and they're going to natural gas. In my own state of Virginia, I just came from a shareholders meeting with the largest power company in Virginia, and they're not building coal-fired; they're phasing them out and they're going to natural gas. That's an interim fuel, that will lead to whatever renewable fuel we use later.

But it is a move. So what's happening in the country is states like Iowa, that's 50-55% are off the grid now, so to speak, mostly due to wind and solar power, are taking action, and they haven't given up on Washington, but they see Washington as incapable of governing itself, let alone the country, and let alone meeting the challenge of climate change.

Sharmini Peries: Now, President Trump has also been engaged evoking and revoking various measures that's been put in place by previous administrations to protect the environment. What is the synergy between what the administration is doing and say, the military? You know, who just actually got an increase in their budget and could you know, spend more of that money in investing in getting better prepared for these kinds of events in the future.

Col. Larry Wilkerson: Well, the military knows that it'll out-survive Trump, and it'll out-survive his administration. The military will out-survive anybody's administration, as will the bureaucracy, period. Call it deep state; call it what you like. It is what runs this country in essence over the long haul.

So the group I belong to, the Climate Security Working Group, for example, has a number of members of that group who are either retired military or liaison from Homeland Security Department or the military, DoD, right now. And we're looking at these problems. We're devising solutions to these problems; we're devising policy recommendations for the White House, the Congress, and elsewhere. And we will keep working on it. The military will keep working on it.

The military knows that down the road, it is gonna have a massive security problem as is the country, as are all the northern powers who are gonna see a period, probably ... the computer models show us a period of 75 to 100 years, even, where they'll have higher yields, more water, too much water, as a matter of fact, flooding like you had in Houston, like you're having in Florida, but they're gonna have a period where they can have longer growing seasons, higher yields, more water and so forth, if they can manage that water.

And so they're going to be growing more food, more abundantly and so forth. The South, on the other hand, that is to say those countries south of the equator, are gonna be confronting desertification, lack of potable water, lack of arable land and so forth. And the military knows it's gonna have to deal with the conflicts that are inevitably gonna rise from these problems.

One of the reasons for the current Syrian conflict, which thank God, looks like it might be winding down now, was 200,000 Syrian farmers who for a couple of years in a row, didn't have any water to grow their crops. Other countries, like Saudi Arabia, saw the protests developing, saw the turmoil developing, and decided to arm some people, send them in and take advantage and try to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. But you're gonna see that all across the globe if we don't do some immunitive actions with regard to human impact on climate change and the most, of course, dramatic one is to reduce the parts per million of carbon dioxide that we're putting into the atmosphere. And you do that most dramatically by cutting back on the burning of fossil fuels, methane is becoming an issue.

But right now, the biggest thing we could do is cut back on the burning of fossil fuels. One of the things we did in Texas, was we put forward to the Texas legislature, the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, to use the market to incentivize people to get off fossil fuels and to quit putting CO2 into the atmosphere.

I think market solutions are a great example of what states and others are doing to try and get a handle on this, even though Washington looks like it's in the Dark Ages.

Sharmini Peries: Larry, we know that the U.S. military is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuel. And is therefore one of the greatest contributors to CO2 levels in the world, not only here in the United States but because they have bases around the world, and they're fighting in various wars, like in Syria, they are one of the greatest contributors. How or where is the military of this and we also know that U.S. military missions were negotiated out of the Kyoto Protocol, but I understand it's back in the Paris Protocol, but now the Trump administration is bowing out of that.

So, where does this all leave the military?

Col. Larry Wilkerson: Absolutely aware, and I will be very honest with you and candid and tell you it's more an awareness of physical need than it is, I shouldn't probably say this, but it is as much an awareness of physical need and physical stress as it is climate change and its deleterious effects on the globe.

And what I mean by that is, we, DoD, is the biggest consumer of petroleum products in the world. And that's very, very costly. Nowhere did we discover that in spades better than in Afghanistan, because there, we have had to truck and fly almost everything, so we are using all manner, DoD is using all manner of ways now to cut down on that fuel consumption in order to save money.

And then realize in the future that for both reasons, the concept of climate change and human contribution thereto, and the physical reason, they have to cut back on the burning of fossil fuels. And let me just give you one example. At one time, the Air Force was experimenting with their, I think it was the F-15 fleet, if I'm not mistaken, using about 10-15% biofuel rather than fossil fuel, and the Congress found out about it and actually prohibited them from doing it.

This is absurd. And the reason was supposedly because it testified that DoD believed humans were contributing to climate change. This is totally absurd. I'm not saying that biofuels in F-15s or F-16s is the answer, but what I'm saying is we need to try a whole lot of alternative courses of action. We need to experiment; we need to be creative, and we need to get away from burning fuels that put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sharmini Peries: Larry, thank you so much for joining us today and look forward to your report next week.

Col. Larry Wilkerson: Thank you, take care.

Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.



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