All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change.

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

Michael T. Klare. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 20019

--- A Review by Harry Strharsky


Photo by Guduru Ajay bhargav from Pexels


During these modern times in public life when up is down and our political discourse is fraught with misrepresentation, lies and deception, the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior and Energy Departments, among others, have acceded to reverse environmental protections and not to refer to “climate change” or “global warming” in their policy discussions; Michael T. Klare makes a strong argument that the U.S. Department of Defense deserves credit as an exemplar in acknowledging climate change as an increasing threat to our national security.


The “all hell breaking loose” is an end game scenario where our armed forces need to confront various global warming related crises overseas while at the same time hampered by severe climate effects to its many bases and facilities at home. Faced with the need for multiple, concurrent deployment decisions the military could be stretched beyond its capacity and suffer institutional collapse, thus making climate change an existential threat to the Pentagon itself.


This scenario, of course, will not be arrived at imminently. It is the end result of what Klare details through several chapters identifying increased dangers of complex emergencies and disruption what he has termed “the climate ladder of escalation.”

The DoD’s realization that climate change is a distinct threat to national security was not arrived at overnight. It comes after more than a decade of research and analysis by members of the military and intelligence agencies. “The military’s altered perspective can be traced back to the 2007 publication of ‘National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,’ the first major study to view global warming as a security concern.” It continues through hundreds of Pentagon and intelligence agency reports, studies, directives and statements to two Department of Defense Climate Change Adaption Roadmaps to the most recently adopted U.S. DoD Reports on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense, January, 2019.


“The climate ladder of escalation” begins with distributed humanitarian emergencies around the globe where our various Military Task Force Commands have been called out to perform multiple Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions. Operation Damayan led by the Pacific Command in Hawaii was deployed to assist with the Super Typhoon Haiyan damage to the Philippines in 2013. Southern Command was activated to provide disaster relief in the Caribbean after Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria struck in 2017. Africa Command’s rapid-response was tested when Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were devastated by Cyclone Idai in March, 2019. Missions like these are most likely to be even more necessary in the years ahead as ocean waters warm and more extreme storms happen more frequently.

Resource scarcity, ethnic strife and “failed-state” government collapse are the next step on the climate ladder of escalation. U.S. military intervening in crisis situations where assorted armed groups are fighting over access to food, energy and other commodities and where American troops may be called to combat local militias or other armed groups while protecting the delivery of emergency assistance for a longer period of time is much more hazardous and complex than normal humanitarian aid activities in delivering supplies and emergency services for a short time after an extreme storm. Such a mission is detailed in the history of conflict in Mali, following the Arab Spring uprisings in Northern Africa in 2012. Klare notes, “For American military planners, the conclusion is inescapable. As global temperatures rise and more states confront the perils of instability and dissolution, the United States will be called upon ever more frequently to help preserve the order.”


Next rung up the ladder of climate change escalation includes food shortages, energy crises, pandemics and mass migrations “To make matters worse severe climate events occur more frequently in ‘clusters,’ magnifying the shock to the system—much as when the 2010 heat wave in Russia coincided with severe flooding in Pakistan and drought in China.” Food insecurity as a result of flo