It’s Time for a Climate Change Version of the Manhattan Project

Anyone who’s lived under a rock for the past three weeks may not have known about a new, award-winning movie sweeping the streaming media and generating Twitter-worthy conversations. Terror with the tongue in the cheeks of “Don’t look up” tells the story of two mid-level astronomers who are trying to warn the world about a comet that could cause an approaching apocalypse. Politicians, media and public figures – now rooted in their scientific denials – mock them and ignore their warnings.

It doesn’t take a degree in theatrical allegory to realize Hollywood’s not-so-subtle (but also inaccurate) claim about America’s pervasive indifference to global climate change. Last May, Pew Research Center surveyed more than 16,000 people globally on how willing they are to adjust their lifestyles to prevent future climate change catastrophes. Americans – more than nearly all other countries surveyed – are far and away the most opposed to changing their behavior. More interestingly, Pew found that the rationale for each position was almost exclusively tied to the political leanings of the respondents.

The US Department of Defense cannot avoid conflicts around responding to climate change. Perhaps easier to understand than purely political plays, DoD also has to focus on damage, efficiency, and speed. When asked about concerns about climate change, some military planners assert that they have “more relevant and dangerous” threats to consider first. This argument may hold water in the extremely short term, but it discredits it beyond the most immediate concerns. Global climate change isn’t just about bigger snowstorms and warmer summers; it represents one of the most serious and dangerous threats our national security establishment has ever known.

Even casual observers can monitor the effects of climate change in our daily lives. Wildfires and droughts continue to occur in the Western United States; storms and floods are raging in coastal areas; bigger and more deadly storms are sweeping the plains; Extreme weather events are stronger, last longer and claim more lives than ever before.

Over the past decade, dozens of US military facilities have been affected by – or in the case of Tyndall Air Force Base in 2018, completely destroyed by – increasingly extreme, violent weather. The dangerous effects of global climate change – long discussed by military planners about future tensions – are now on our doorstep.

Smoldering increases in sea levels and temperatures are making storms bigger, more frequent, and more dangerous. DoD 2019 “Report on the effects of climate change for the Department of Defense” 79 military installations at risk of climate change have been identified, and considerable money and effort is being spent protecting them from future “weather attacks”.

However, it is not only risky to install important strategies. DoD .’s 2021 “Climate Risk Analysis” states that “climate change is reshaping the geostrategic, operational, and tactical environment that is critical to the security and defense of the United States.” The old Arctic ice sheets are now open water and are being militarized by US competitors. The United States is being called on more often for humanitarian responses. Climate migration is leading to conflict, instability and conflict, and is expected to increase to uncontrollable levels within two decades. Domestically, extreme weather and rising sea levels threaten our power grid, transportation infrastructure and financial system. Abroad, America is increasingly dependent on what then-Lt. General James Mattis once called “the leash of .” [fossil] fuel” poses a serious vulnerability of the supply chain.

Taken individually, each of these threats constitutes a serious crisis for military planners. Combined, they will command all of our attention. Even from a military perspective – especially from a military perspective – America’s “Don’t Look Up” moment is here. Now.

Manhattan Project

America faces another “Don’t Look” moment in which the United States military, in partnership with the greatest scientific minds of a generation, has opened the free world to safety and security. security. On January 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt – facing a seemingly endless world war and countless future lives and resources at stake – formally approved the production of produced America’s first atomic bomb. In a time when the US military was called upon to avert disaster, the Manhattan Project was born.

This unified, science-based, and goal-oriented approach is exactly what the United States needs to lead the world in combating climate change. A “Manhattan Project on Climate Security” can – and should – be established by the Department of Defense as soon as possible. Except this time, the target will not be an instrument of destruction but a tool of global conservation. The DoD, unlike any other federal agency, is uniquely qualified with pre-established national laboratories, academic relationships, and (most importantly) budgets to carry out its mandate. such service. Furthermore, it has a lot to do with climate impacts.

Most Americans would be surprised to discover how often their military consumes fossil fuels. Based on Research by the Department of Energy and the Brown University “Costs of War” project, the DoD is responsible for most of the US government’s use of fossil fuels: more than 648 trillion UK thermal units by 2020. That’s more than three times the consumption of every major agency other US governments combined. The Department of Defense is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the world.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s October 2021 Climate Adaptation Plan is a great start, even if it focuses primarily on mitigating the effects of global climate change rather than the DoD’s contribution to climate change. Even so, efforts across the DoD are bringing us closer to a stronger, more resilient, and more sustainable force. Just a few weeks ago, the Army released its first climate strategy, and the Air Force Research Laboratory is develop alternative, low-carbon or zero-emission energy sources.

But that’s still not enough. Even if the entire DoD were carbon-free today, it would still barely move the world’s climate change compass. The place where the DoD can make meaningful changes, however, is through an initiative like the Manhattan Project – except with a global expansion. This focused effort will expand global influence and maximize scientific research. Few organizations use DoD’s budget or capacity to innovate. DoD’s inventors brought us radar, microwave ovens, internet technology – even the first significant study linking climate change to anthropogenic CO2 emissions was also attributed to DoD sponsor.

Now is the time for the DoD-led “Manhattan Project on Climate Security.” As has been done throughout America’s history, the US military has the ability – and moral obligation – to lead America to a more sustainable future.

Lieutenant Colonel Theodore “Doc” Shanks is a United States Air Force C-17A command pilot, defense fellow, and visiting scholar at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. where he studies climate security and the impact of Air Force operations on global climate change. The views expressed in this commentary represent the views of the author and are not necessarily those of the United States Department of Defense or the Department of the Air Force. It’s Time for a Climate Change Version of the Manhattan Project

Jake Nichol

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