Quadrennial Defense Review 2014: Lions and Tigers and ManBearPigs, Oh My!

by Marlo Lewis on March 7, 2014

in Features

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Every four years the Pentagon publishes a Quadrennial Defense Review presenting its assessment of the nation’s “strategic challenges and opportunities,” and outlining DOD’s plans and budget priorities for protecting U.S. security interests. The just-published 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review calls the effects of climate change “threat multipliers,” much as the previous 2010 QDR called climate change an “accelerant of instability or conflict.”

These reports contain no trace of Secy. of State John Kerry’s hysteria about climate change being “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Nonetheless, the usual suspects frequently cite DOD’s assessments as proof that climate change is a national security threat (‘even the generals are worried’).

Let’s look at pertinent passages in the 2014 QDR, beginning with the Executive Summary:

The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities [p. VI].

Well, sure, if we make a long train of assumptions about climate change causing droughts and floods, and the latter causing crop failure, and the latter causing food riots, and the latter causing state failure or exacerbating regional conflict, then it “may” increase the “frequency, scale, and complexity” of future missions. But don’t bet money on it.

So far, the alleged link between global warming and extreme weather “exists” only in the virtual world of non-validated computer climate models. There has been no trend in the strength or frequency of land-falling hurricanes in the world’s five main hurricane basins during the past 50-70 years; no trend globally in accumulated cyclone energy since 1970; no trend in global weather-related losses since 1960 once impacts are adjusted for increases in wealth, population, and the consumer price index; little change in global drought over the past 60 years; and no trend in U.S. flood magnitudes over the past 85 years.

Plus, the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions allegedly responsible for the “climate crisis” added literally trillions of dollars to global agricultural output over the past 50 years, and will likely increase output by many more trillions over the next 35 years. The net impact of CO2 emissions on global food security and, thus, international stability and peace, is likely to be positive in coming decades. 

What about climate change “undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities”? Weather-related wear and tear on facilities and infrastructure is not some new phenomenon unique to the Age of Global Warming. It’s hard to see how “increases in heavy downpours” (2010 QDR, p. 84) merit inclusion in an assessment of the nation’s strategic challenges and opportunities.

Sea-levels are rising and many installations are located in coastal areas. But the rate of increase is gradual and not faster than people (including DOD) have adapted to before.

The Executive Summary continues:

Our actions to increase energy and water security, including investments in energy efficiency, new technologies, and renewable energy sources, will increase the resiliency of our installations and help mitigate these effects [p. VI].

Exactly how those investments would “mitigate” the alleged “effects” is not explained. How, for example, would deployment of wind turbines or solar panels mitigate the impacts of extreme weather at U.S. military bases?

A more fundamental issue: The QDR is silent about the security risks of climate change policies. With current and foreseeable technologies, it is not possible to “stabilize” atmospheric CO2 concentrations without restricting developing countries’ access to affordable energy. Policies that hold back poverty eradication are by definition detrimental to international stability and peace.

A closely-related problem: How would carbon constraints on developing countries be enforced? The option most frequently discussed is trade sanctions — “carbon tariffs” to punish “carbon dumping.” But it is free trade, not trade barriers, that promote inter-dependence among nations, global prosperity, and peace.

The 2014 QDR mentions that Iran “threatens security by defying international law and pursuing capabilities that would allow it to develop nuclear weapons” (p. 5). But if denied the opportunity to generate electricity from fossil fuels, won’t poor nations be more likely to shop for fissile material and nuclear technology? By one estimate, India would need 250 new reactors to meet projected electric demand growth through 2030 without incremental new coal power. What does DOD view as a bigger threat, nuclear proliferation or heavy downpours at military installations?

One climate policy has already exacerbated world hunger, instability, and conflict – the very ills we are supposed to fear from global warming. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a policy ostensibly designed to reduce the carbon footprint of U.S. transportation, puts upward pressure on grain prices. Soaring grain prices sparked violent protests in both 2008 and 2011.

Food Price Spikes Violence

Figure explanation: Red dashed vertical lines correspond to beginning dates of “food riots” in 2008 and protests associated with major Mideast unrest in 2011. Reported death tolls are in parenthesis. The black line shows the FAO food price index from 2004 to 2011.

Returning to the text, the 2014 QDR states on p. 8:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure.

Instead of applauding “substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations,” the QDR presents it as a factor that, “coupled” with climate change, will “devastate homes, land, and infrastructure.” Okay, maybe that’s just poor editing, but maybe it’s also sloppy thinking — hard to tell.

Severe weather patterns are not “accelerating” (see discussion and links above; also Roger Pielke Jr.’s recent congressional testimony). As also noted above, sea levels are not rising so rapidly that anyone needs to flee inland. The contribution of the great ice sheets (Greenland and West Antarctica) to 21st century sea-level rise is more likely to be measured in inches than in feet or meters. Some bases may eventually need to be relocated or closed but DOD has had ample experience with base closures and realignments, which save taxpayers billions of dollars. Global temperatures are increasing more slowly than the IPCC model projections on which QDR climate risk assessments are based.

Models v Observations Christy McKnider, WSJ Feb 20, 2014

More from p. 8:

Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Water is the most basic need of human society, so it’s easy to suppose water scarcity is a major source of conflict just waiting to be “threat-multiplied” by climate change. But we expect more from defense analysts than facile assumptions.

British science writer Wendy Barnaby planned to write a book about the “coming century of water wars,” only to find that cooperation rather than conflict is the dominant response to shared water resources.  Of 1,831 interactions over international fresh water resources spanning five decades, she could not find a single bona fide water war — not even in the conflict-ridden, water-scarce Middle East. Egypt and Jordan have gone to war with Israel several times, but never over water. Rather than fight about water, they cooperate and import “virtual water” in the form of grain.

To repeat, CO2 emissions are a boon to agriculture, boosting supply and exerting downward pressure on food prices. Fossil fuel-supported agricultural technologies continually improve, with the result, according to economist Indur Goklany, that “In 2007, the global food and agricultural system delivered, on average, two and a half times as much food per acre of cropland as in 1961.” Note: That was supposedly a period of “unprecedented” global warming. Agricultural biotechnology is in its infancy. The most reasonable expectation is that global food security will continue to improve in coming decades.

What about climate change influencing “resource competition”? If I’m not mistaken, the QDR is referring to the shrinking of the Arctic polar ice cap, which facilitates both deep-sea oil and gas exploration and trade via the fabled Northwest Passage. Well sure, when previously inaccessible resources become accessible, nations will compete for access. But in the case of water and food, the QDR claims climate change will promote conflict by making resources scarcer. So if Arctic ice melt expands global energy supply and facilitates trade, why wouldn’t that foster cooperation and peace?

It’s hard to shake the suspicion there’s no real analysis going on here, just a political directive to conclude that climate change is bad, bad, bad even when the potential effects may be quite beneficial.

From p. 25:

Finally, the Department will employ creative ways to address the impact of climate change, which will continue to affect the operating environment and the roles and missions that U.S. Armed Forces undertake. The Department will remain ready to operate in a changing environment amid the challenges of climate change and environmental damage. We have increased our preparedness for the consequences of environmental damage and continue to seek to mitigate these risks while taking advantage of opportunities. The Department’s operational readiness hinges on unimpeded access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, we will complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on our missions and operational resiliency, and develop and implement plans to adapt as required. 

Note the lack of specifics on how climate change has affected the “roles and missions that U.S. Armed Forces undertake.” My guess is that climate change affects roles and missions as a pretext. Defined as a pervasive, intractable, threat-multiplier, climate change is the perfect rationale for DOD to mission-creep its way into a wide range of activities and relationships that may have little to do with providing for the common defense.

Too cynical an interpretation? The next paragraph in the QDR states:

Climate change also creates both a need and an opportunity for nations to work together, which the Department will seize through a range of initiatives. We are developing new policies, strategies, and plans, including the Department’s Arctic Strategy and our work in building humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities, both within the Department and with our allies and partners.


jim March 21, 2014 at 9:46 am


jake from statefarm March 21, 2014 at 9:58 am

yo wat up peeps

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