Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Michael Klare on How the U.S. Military's Role Will Change in an Era of Climate Emergency

Francesca interviewed author Michael Klare in December 2019 about his piece for the Nation, "When The Climate Replaces Our Forever Wars." The interview aired on WPKN 89.5 FM
"It's my firm belief that increasingly in the future, the task of the US military will shift from defending against conventional adversaries conventional threats, like say, Russia and China, to unconventional threats, primarily those driven by climate change." -Michael Klare



Francesca Rheannon
Well, Michael Klare, thanks so much for coming on to WPKN. It's great to have you. We're calling you up because this is a week when the climate summit is happening this time in Madrid and you have written a piece for the Nation called "When The Climate Replaces Our Forever Wars." This piece is partially speculative--a look back from 2032--with a meeting of the top uniformed officers of the combined Armed Forces. Why are they meeting? And how have the armed services changed in 2032, in a time of climate catastrophe?

Michael Klare
They meet every year at the beginning of the year to talk about the posture-- that's their word-- the posture of the Armed Forces, meaning what is their readiness to engage in combat or other activities, what are the threats, and what is their preparedness to address those threats.

They appear typically before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Services committee, where senior members of Congress question them about that issue. So it's the one time of the year where they come before Congress and they're questioned about their readiness for whatever threats they may face in the year ahead.

This is, of course, my speculation about how things are going to change. But it's my firm belief that increasingly in the future, the task of the US military will shift from defending against conventional adversaries conventional threats, like say, Russia and China, to unconventional threats, primarily those driven by climate change, and those unconventional threats would include humanitarian catastrophes around the world, intense storms and floods, severe droughts that create collapse of states, worldwide mass migrations, pandemics, and the like, on one hand, and at the same time, intense disasters in the United States itself: multiple hurricanes striking the United States, wildfires springing up all over the West Coast of the United States, floods in the middle of the US from intense rainfalls, all these things happening simultaneously and forcing the military to attend to these kind of disasters, diverting their forces from traditional enemies to dealing with these climate disasters.

Francesca Rheannon 
Could one say that that's the upside of climate chaos?

Michael Klare
Well, you could look at it how you might. I think from the military's point of view, this is a diversion from what they see as the historic task of defending against foreign enemies. But by this time, I think, looking in the future, the climate threat is going to be so immense that the American public and Congress is going to demand that the military address those threats.

And really who else are you going to turn to when three hurricanes strike the United States in a row, causing massive collapse of infrastructure and mass panic, hospitals shutting down, no power, roads and airports closed? Local authorities will do the best they can, FEMA will step in, but there is nobody else to turn to but the military to address large disasters on that scale.

Francesca Rheannon 
Remember during Hurricane Katrina, was it the National Guard that went into there and it was kind of scary because what happens to civil liberties, what happens to human rights, when the military comes in?

Michael Klare
This is a big issue that constrains what the military can do. It ordinarily cannot make arrests on US soil. That's the Posse Comitatus Act that prevents them from doing that. So they usually leave things to the police and the National Guard to perform those civil functions. I'm talking about the active duty military, the National Guard normally is under state control.

But on the kind of large scale disasters that we're talking about like Katrina, local authorities collapsed, or they deserted their posts, or they behaved in a unethical manner, protecting some parts of this city and not others, abandoning large parts of New Orleans to people's own devices, leading to large scale death, and other catastrophes, so you can't trust necessarily local authorities to perform their legal obligations. And in that case, then who's going to be able to perform those functions?

Now, mind you, having spoken to people in the military, this is not what they want to do. They've been trained to fight wars in Asia and in Europe in the Middle East. That's what they're trying to do. They don't want to come in and perform a police function in the United States. Yet, I think climate change changes everything, as Naomi Klein says, and it's going to alter the role of the military.

Francesca Rheannon 
Are they getting prepared for this?

Michael Klare
Not really. Now, bear in mind that the commander in chief, President Trump, says that climate change is a hoax. He says I don't want to hear about this. And I don't want the government to do anything about it. So it's very difficult for the military to act around this issue. Nonetheless, they are taking steps to address climate change.

One of their problems is that their own bases are just as vulnerable to climate change as our American communities, especially the Navy, because naval bases are have to be on the ocean, which means their bases are pretty much at sea level. So they're a lot like places like Miami, and Charleston, South Carolina and New York City for that matter. They're very close to the sea and therefore vulnerable to rising oceans and to extreme hurricanes and the like. So this is one area where the military is very conscious that their ability to carry out their functions in the future is at severe risk, and they are taking steps now to bolster the defenses of their coastal facilities.

Francesca Rheannon 
What do you feel civil society needs to do to avoid the dangers to democracy of privileging of this kind of interference and intervention, which will be necessary in the case of disasters, from really taking over the politics and eroding whatever democracy we may have left? What can we do?

Michael Klare 
I've written about this. I have a book out called All Hell Breaking Loose, The Pentagon's Perspective On Climate Change, where I address some of these issues. And, you know, there's no alternative except to slow the pace of climate change. We all have to understand that climate change is happening at a much faster rate than anyone anticipated, even 10 years ago, even five years ago. And we have to appreciate just how devastating it's going to be for the United States of America, like every other country.

Unless we take steps now to rapidly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we're going to face intense disasters in the years to come, no question about it. And the only way to deal with those disasters is for every community in America, every city, to immediately establish a climate change emergency preparedness organization and to develop what kind of plans they're going to make to address these dangers.

If you're on the coastline, that's going to mean building sea walls and moving houses and businesses that are right on the coast, moving critical facilities from ground levels to higher levels and buildings, protecting critical infrastructure and the like, every city has to start doing that. Otherwise, when these disasters strike, cities are going to be immobilized and some will have to be abandoned entirely. So if you're concerned about protecting civil society in the future, you must take steps now to protect your cities and communities.

Francesca Rheannon 
Let me just follow that up with one concern I have. We see from the election that happened in the UK, and from our own election year in 2016, that the fossil fuel industry and the oligarchs and their billionaires and the petro-klepto states, like Russia, have enormous power to influence elections. And my fear is that they have a death grip on the planet that will not be released in time. From your study of this, you know far more than I do about this. What's your perspective on their power, and the power of those who are trying to save the planet?

Michael Klare 
I think you put your finger on the most important question, or certainly one of them, of the 21st century. We're in a race for time, because as I indicated, if we don't make progress immediately to reduce our carbon emissions, we're not going to save the planet from the most extreme effects of climate change, which we haven't yet witnessed. We're only seeing the beginning.

So, eventually, there's no question in my mind that as those effects become more evident, that people are going to immediately stop using their fossil fuel fueled cars and the like and immediately move towards solar and electric cars and so on when they know the extent of the damage that climate change will wreak in the future.

But we have to do that sooner rather than later. And in the meantime, the carbon barons are going to do everything to postpone that day as far into the future as they can. So you're very right. It's a race for time. If they succeed in postponing that date of transition, then we're going to live, or our children and grandchildren are going to live, on a very hellish planet.

I wish things were looking rosier. They don't but I do think with people like Greta Thunberg, who are rallying young people who see this future I'm talking about, that that will alter the picture soon enough to make a huge change. So let's hope that's the case.

Francesca Rheannon
Well, Michael Klare, that is a sobering prediction that you have and a very urgent remedy for us to follow. Your article in the Nation is when the climate replaces our forever wars. Thank you so much for talking with us here.

Michael Klare 
My pleasure, as always.


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