Mission-Prepare For Environmental Insecurity

Prior to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, Dr. W. Chris King says changes to the Tibetan Plateau’s watershed could serve as the greatest threat to destabilize peace in the US Department of Defense’s “Pacific theater”.  He told those attending K-State Polytechnic’s Civic Luncheon Lecture Thursday that climate change is just one form of environmental threat that can directly impact US national security.

King is a retired Brigadier General, who also served as the former head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the US Military Academy.  He is also the former Dean of the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.

King said climate change creates a more dangerous and uncertain world with the potential for pandemics, mass refuge movements and a massive humanitarian crisis.

Water Insecurity Escalates Military Tensions

The Tibetan Plateau serves as a vast reserve of snow and ice that serves as headwaters that flow through rivers and streams into China, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries.  King said that changes to this watershed can put 3.2 billion people at risk.  Global warming is producing 3-5% decrease in the overall rainfall per decade.  King said some rivers no longer flow in the summer and there is increased flooding in the spring.

China has the world’s largest military of 3.5 million soldiers that can be rapidly increased to 10 million.  King said China is currently using water as a weapon to India, which has the second largest army in the world.  Pakistan has the third largest army in the world; all three of these countries already have nuclear weapons.

To help prevent migration from Bangladesh into India, King said that India has built a fence all around Bangladesh.  If conditions become dire in Bangladesh—because of environmental, health or economic reasons–King said India’s military could take actions to prevent people from entering India.

King also spoke of historic tensions surrounding the Nile River that flows through Africa.  Egypt has claimed all the “water in the Nile” for over 5,000 years.  Yet, down river, Ethopia has dammed one tributary, the Blue Nile.  Some African countries receive generous rainfall while others receive insignificant amounts; lack of rainfall contributes to tensions between countries.

Environmental Security is Broad

King said that the science of environmental security covers such broad topics as:

  • Water as a scare resource, including both fresh water and the oceans.
  • Air—which includes climate change, El Nino/La Nina, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollutants.
  • Land use which includes protection of arable lands.

King identified three causes of climate change:

  • Variations in the sun’s energy
  • Changes in the reflectivity of the earth’s atmosphere and surfaces (which can be impacted by volcanic eruptions and large amounts of snow cover)
  • Changes in green house effects that include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, HFCs

Even General Mattis Believes In Climate Change

When retired US Marine Corp general James Mattis’ appointment as Secretary of Defense was being confirmed in Congress, Mattis testified, “Climate change is impacting stabilities in areas where our troops are operating.”

King said it has taken years, but the Pentagon has come to accept the wisdom of British environmentalist Norman Myers.  In 1986’s The Environmentalist, Myers wrote, “. . . national security is not just about fighting forces and weapons.  It relates to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources, climate and other factors that rarely figure into the minds of military experts and political leaders.”

The scientific community is beginning to understand climate changes.  Standard ways of measuring climate changes were first adopted in 1880.  “Supercomputing” abilities have made it possible to draft predictive models.

King said that while the US’s energy consumption has stabilized, he added that “we haven’t learned to conserve”.  While electrical power is increasingly coming from renewable sources, he said 80% of the power gets lost from when the coal is burned at the power plant and then travels down archaic electrical grids to the plug.

The first course of action, King said, is to reduce greenhouse gases.  The Obama Administration proposed that the Environmental Protection Agency study a Clean Power Plan in 2014; the CPP is currently under review at the direction of President Trump and it is expected this will be eliminated.

King said that in recent years, China has succeeded in closing many of its coal fired power plants, but still must deal with human health issues related to problematic air quality.


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