Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave a speech about climate change and global instability Monday and released the Pentagon’s “roadmap” for adapting to global warming.
“Most of the scientists seem to think the future will see drier areas becoming more arid, and wetter areas receiving more precipitation,” says University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It.”
“Well, if you put that on a map of the geopolitical problems around the world, you think about places like the Near East, the Middle East. You think about North Africa or even sub-Saharan Africa. Or for that matter, even if you think about the Himalayas with rivers flowing out through China, India, Pakistan and of the sub-Asian peninsula," Glennon says. "All of those areas are fraught with tension and changes in the availability of water will certainly heighten those tensions.”
A future with less water in certain places means fewer crops growing in those places. During the war in Afghanistan, record drought made many farmers limit themselves to one plant: poppy for opium.
“It uses one-fifth the water that wheat uses,” says NYU faculty member Christian Parenti, author of “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.”
“It’s not to reduce the war to opium or to drought, but there is a contributing factor,” Parenti says. “Why would farmers in southern Afghanistan support the Taliban? Well, that’s the armed force that’s going to defend your family’s right to grow the only crop that under these drought conditions will make any money.”
The Pentagon is also planning for a new Arctic race for another resource: oil and gas. Melting arctic ice provides access to new petroleum drilling sites, but ironically, petroleum is a contributor to climate change in the first place.
“The first line of preparation we need is to be prepared for an accident if there is an oil spill or a problem with a rig,” says military analyst Sherri Goodman, senior vice president and general counsel of research firm CNA. “Even though it’s more accessible now, it’s still a very difficult region in which to operate.”
The Pentagon’s new climate adaptation roadmap notes scientists are “converging toward consensus” on climate change. Uncertainty remains, the report notes, but “it cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”