Reporters, researchers and other scribes have long noted the biggest block of attendees at environmental conferences have been military. If it’s environmental, they want to know about it. In Michael Klare’s All Hell Breaking Loose, we learn the finer points of why.
The armed forces need to be prepared for any number of contingencies. They need to be ready for war, obviously, but they are also focused on their own bases, supplies, equipment and people. Plus, as more and more “natural” disasters occur with ever fiercer destructive force, the armed forces get called in to rescue, remove, restore, feed and help. They can end up having to deploy to three different theaters in the same month. None of which was a planned operation. This has already happened, as hurricanes battered Puerto Rico as well as Texas, and wildfires raged in California. It will happen again, and they know it.
To all these ends, the military brass has wisely focused on climate change. Klare gives the interesting example of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation on the verge of collapse. A killer typhoon, sandstorm, heatwave or flood could tip the balance to chaos there. The government is so weak, it wouldn’t be able to deliver on a rescue or evacuation, let alone a rebuild. US forces have plans laid out to essentially take over in such a case, parachuting in, rolling in, and sailing in to secure the nation from itself. Similarly all over the world, the US military is continually preparing for environmental disaster. It’s a major reason why they have more than 840 overseas bases.
But the military has its own issues too, Klare explains. Not only are its east coast bases flooding, (some of them 85% of the time) but hundred million dollar planes must be evacuated to the interior in the face of hurricanes. Ships must put to sea to avoid a battering. Thousands of staff have to be sent elsewhere too. Out west, meanwhile, excessive heat can mean training is curtailed, flights cancelled and weapons non-functioning. Trying to aim and fire a black metal semi-automatic that is 125 degrees hot itself can pose problems. And then there are the wildfires.
The military is striking out on its own, Klare says. They are looking at redesigns with a goal of “net zero” fossil fuel consumption. They are leaders in biofuel and solar. They are converting to electric vehicles far faster than the country itself. They want to be far less dependent on fuel convoys in overseas conflicts, for one. They don’t trust their “allies” and fuel deliveries make them vulnerable. And it’s getting expensive.
They are putting solar panels on tents and backpacks – anything to make themselves more self-sufficient. They are not waiting for hearings, approvals or tests; they are deploying on a daily basis in their quest for independence and mobility. One day the rest of society might be wise to take a tip or two from their approaches.
The book has issues. Klare writes ponderously, setting up thoughts clumsily. He takes forever to make a point with the groundwork forest he sets up first. He finds himself repeatedly excusing the military in advance, handling them with kid gloves. Clearly, he depends on his access and their openness to him, and his gratitude shows. He is also annoyingly repetitive. For example, he says halfway through that the new ocean opening up in the arctic is expected to have 13% of the world’s unknown oil reserves, and 30% of its gas (making it a potential military hotspot). Two pages later, he quotes Secretary of State Pompeo saying exactly the same thing. And then he repeats it in the conclusion. It desperately needs editing.
But the most striking thing about All Hell Breaking Loose is political, rather than environmental, though Klare downplays it. Despite the president’s direction to eliminate all references to climate change, the military is focused on it. Despite rollbacks of rules and laws and gagging of science and scientists, which the president characterizes as a Chinese hoax, the military says there is no alternative for them; it’s what they face in the world and they need to master it. Wisely, they don’t flaunt it, but the orders, manuals, strategies, roadmaps and buildouts are clearly climate change oriented, in total defiance of their commander in chief. Operating a base under water is not an option, regardless of political fashion. The top brass stand their ground in Congressional hearings, despite badgering by the more extreme lawmakers, as Klare shows. The military sees climate as a real threat and possibly the biggest threat on a global scale. Therefore it must focus on it, cope with it and seek to overcome it. Or at least remediate the damage from it.
“At some point, officers who view national security as a sacred obligation will have no choice but to confront those who persist in climate denial,” Klare says at his most definitive. I wish the whole book was written like that.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.