Preparing for climate wars

Published 15 April 2010

Climate change is not only the concern of academics and left-leaning do-gooders; it has increasingly become the preoccupation of strategic planners, militaries, and the intelligence communities in all the leading industrial states; the national security establishments of the U.S. NATO, India, and others have been war-gaming climate change and how to cope with its predicted consequences; a new book details some of the frightening scenarios for which the U.S. and other militaries prepare

The debates over whether or not global warming is underfoot, and if so, what is the source of such warming, are on going. Fred Pearce writes in New Scientist that when a climate scientist forecasts that global warming will trigger mega-famines, floods, of refugees and geopolitical meltdown, we may think that they have a myopic world view or are yielding to trends within academia. When a security specialist says the same thing, we should start to worry.

Gwynne Dyer has been a lecturer on international affairs for two decades. In Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats, he explores what he calls the “grim detail” of how governments will grapple with a challenge unprecedented since before there were governments.

Pearce notes that you will not find this stuff in any IPCC report. In particular, Dyer offers eight scenarios of climate-induced human catastrophe over the next half century that draw on war games developed in the U.S. Pentagon, NATO, and elsewhere.

Dyer shares the view that there is a trend toward global warming, and believes that events may soon be taken out of our hands. Before long, he writes, there will probably be “megatons of methane” belching out of thawing Arctic permafrost, making any reductions in carbon dioxide emissions close to irrelevant.

What, then, are the scenarios being war-gamed at the higher reaches of the militaries of the leading industrial states?

  • During the 2010s, Russia and NATO go head-to-head over control of the ice-free Arctic, and China implodes as millions starve in droughts
  • During the 2020s, cyclones kill millions in Bangladesh, while the United States builds a “big fence” to keep out starving Mexicans
  • In the 2030s, India and Pakistan conduct a six-day nuclear war over a hydroelectric plant on the parched river Indus, whose water they are supposed to share; it leaves half a billion dead
  • By the 2040s, Canada is selling the contents of the Great Lakes to California, and the European Union collapses in the face of millions of refugees escaping from North Africa; only the United Kingdom sits smug behind its wide moat, with a still equable climate

Pearce writes that he does not share Dyer’s alarmist approach. Dyer’s “views of both humanity and climate is too mechanistic and his view of politics too militaristic,” he writes, and adds:


p>The world is far stranger, and the future will be far odder, than anything imagined in a war studies seminar based on the predictions of climate modelers. We know less than we think. But as an insight into what the military strategists imagine is going to happen as a result of climate change, this book is truly terrifying.