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The Military Takes on Climate Change Deniers

The Pentagon commits to planning for higher temperatures, and retired generals line up to help
On patrol in Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012
On patrol in Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012Photograph by Robert Stolarik/The New York Times/Redux

The idea that climate change poses serious risks to U.S. national security, long contested in conservative circles, is now an integral part of Pentagon planning. On Oct. 13, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made it official with the release of the Pentagon’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, a 16-page document that lays out the effects of extreme weather events and rising temperatures on military training, operations, acquisitions, and infrastructure. Two previous editions, issued in 2012 and 2013, treated climate change as a future threat, but this year’s cast it as a reality that must be dealt with quickly. “Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks,” the document begins.

The Pentagon’s move sets up a showdown between the military, a cautious institution run by some of the most conservative people in the U.S. government, and congressional Republicans, who continue to deny that climate change is real, let alone that it requires action. In May, House Republicans passed an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act forbidding the Defense Department from spending money on any climate-related initiatives, including planning programs. “This amendment will ensure we maximize our military might without diverting funds for a politically motivated agenda,” Representative David McKinley of West Virginia, who sponsored the amendment, wrote in a letter to members of Congress asking for a yes vote. The amendment failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.