On Thursday, Donald Trump declared that if elected President, he would wage an all-out war against national and global climate action. On Friday, he went so far as to to deny the reality of California’s devastating drought.
Because Trump gave his big energy and climate speech right before Memorial Day, it is altogether fitting and proper that we look at what Trump’s plans to destroy a livable climate would mean for the future of war.
Trump said he would kill the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and all domestic climate-related regulations. And he said, “We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement” — truly humanity’s best if not only chance to avoid catastrophic irreversible climate change lasting 1000 years.
Now Trump can’t really cancel that agreement, since it involves nearly 200 other nations unanimously agreeing to leave most fossil fuels in the ground in a global effort to keep total warming “well below 2°C.” But since that agreement requires every country to ratchet down their carbon pollution targets ever five years, Trump could certainly throw a big wrench into the machinery of national and global climate action, making the already-difficult task of staying below 2°C nearly impossible.
While most of what Trump says about climate change and energy is gibberish, as I discussed a couple of weeks ago, at this point, all one can do is take him literally. So let’s do that since he might just be the next President of the United States.
The Forever War
If President Trump does what he says he will, then America and the world will be doomed to decades, or more likely, centuries, of strife and conflict from catastrophic climate change from the synergistic effect of soaring temperatures, Dust-Bowlification, extreme weather, sea level rise and super-charged storm surges. These climate impacts will create the kind of food insecurity that drives war, conflict, and the competition for arable and habitable land.
The Pentagon itself made the climate/security link explicit in a 2014 report warning that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” has impacts that can “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” and will probably lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources.”
The world’s leading scientists and governments came to the same conclusion after reviewing the recent scientific literature. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2014 that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.”
Trump’s policies would create more failed states like Syria
Here are two important conclusions from the IPCC report, a super-cautious analysis that every major country in the world signed off on line-by-line (emphasis in original):
- Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change. Large-scale violent conflict harms assets that facilitate adaptation, including infrastructure, institutions, natural resources, social capital, and livelihood opportunities.
- Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks. Multiple lines of evidence relate climate variability to these forms of conflict.
Separately, they are both worrisome. But together, they are catastrophic. Climate change makes violent conflict more likely — and violent conflict makes a country more vulnerable to climate change. So climate change appears poised to help create many more of the most dangerous situations on Earth: failed states. Syria appears to be turning into an early example.
“The Syria conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II,” reports the European Commission. And a major 2015 study confirmed what Climate Progress has been reporting for years: “Human-caused climate change was a major trigger of Syria’s brutal civil war.”
Already, half of Syria’s population has fled their homes, and the massive influx of refugees has been taking an enormous toll on other nations in the Middle East and Europe. The chaos even prompted the United States to deploy troops to the decimated country.
The 2015 study, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” found that global warming made Syria’s 2006 to 2010 drought two to three times more likely. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” lead author Dr. Colin Kelley explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”
Events leading up to 2011 Syrian uprising, with chart of net migration of displaced Syrians and Iraqi refugees into urban areas (in millions) since 2005. Source: Kelley et al. (2015)
The study identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought, Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley told Slate. Titley, also a meteorologist, said, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”
While Trump often talks like an isolationist who wants fewer conflicts, he has promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” — at the same time his policies will be creating the conditions for a lot more of failed states.
Indeed, warming-worsened drought is already causing problems all around the Mediterranean:
NOAA concluded in 2011 that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” Reds and oranges in the map highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010.
Trump’s policies would create tens of millions of refugees from south of the U.S. border
And it isn’t just half a world away that Trump’s policy would be creating failed states. It would be at America’s doorstep.
If we don’t take far stronger action on climate change, then here is what a 2015 NASA study projected the normal climate of North America will look like. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to that seen during the 1930s Dust Bowl.
Our poorer neighbors to the south will be engulfed by near-permanent Dust Bowl or severe drought. And of course their coastal areas (and ours) will be trying to “adapt” to sea level rise of several feet by 2100. Again for all but the wealthiest coastal areas, the primary adaptation strategy will probably be abandonment.
That means much of the population of Mexico and Central America — likely over 100 million people, with Mexico alone projected to have a population of 150 million in 2050 — will be trying to find a place to live that isn’t anywhere near as hot and dry, that has enough fresh water and food to go around. They aren’t going to be looking south.
If Trump wins, then, it means xenophobia will be ascendant in this country at the same time we are electing a man who has vowed to be the world’s primary obstacle to preserving a livable climate for our southern neighbors. It’s like we would be setting fire to our neighbor’s house and farm — and then blocking efforts by the fire department to put the fire out AND at the same time condemning any notion that we have an obligation to house and feed them.
Trump would be creating the perfect conditions for failed states and violence in North America.
Even with the first round of national CO2 pledges made for the Paris climate agreement, we are headed well past the 2°C “defense line” against catastrophic climate change, where we cross carbon cycle tipping points create a world of rapid warming and a ruined climate far outside the bounds of any human experience. That’s why the agreement requires each country to keep ratcheting down its CO2 levels.
A world where President Trump blocks national and global climate action is a world with dozens of Syrias and Darfurs and Pakistani mega-floods, of countless environmental refugees — hundreds of millions in the second half of this century — all clamoring to occupy the parts of the developed world that aren’t flooded or Dust-Bowlified, including the United States of America.
It would be a world where everyone eventually becomes a veteran or a casualty of war. And if we don’t act swiftly and strongly to stop it, the IPCC warned in 2014 that the worst impacts were irreversible on a time scale of centuries if not millennia.
That’s something worth remembering this Memorial Day.