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September 19, 2017

Like Climate Change? You’ll Love the Langevin Amendment


The Pentagon is a huge contributor to global climate change, but you’d never know it from the Langevin Amendment.  This obscure budgetary measure is being hailed as a great victory in the fight against climate change.  It is anything but.

The Langevin Amendment, submitted by Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI), declares that “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States” and directs the US Department of Defense to study the threat.  The provision appears as an Amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, a $696.5 bn defense spending bill.[1]  On Wednesday, June 28, the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee passed the NDAA, including the Langevin Amendment, by a vote of 60 to one.[2]

The Langevin Amendment went on to survive a challenge by Representative Scott Perry (R-PA).  Congressman Perry’s proposed amendment would have stripped the Langevin Amendment from the NDAA.  (Congressman Perry argued, sincerely or not, that many federal agencies were investigating climate change, so there was no need for the DoD to do so.)

On July 13, Perry’s amendment was rejected by the full House, 185 to 234, with 14 Members not voting.  The Langevin Amendment remains part of the NDAA.

There was much rejoicing.  Liberal-left media outlets were thrilled that 46 Republicans had voted against the Perry Amendment.  Overlooked was the fact that four times as many Republicans voted for the Perry Amendment as voted against it.[3]  This was hardly the last gasp of Republican climate change denial.[4]

Sorry to spoil the party, but have the giddy celebrants read the Langevin Amendment?  Of course, Republicans voted for it.  Only the most hard core climate denier will find anything threatening in the Langevin Amendment.  Try to find the words “anthropogenic climate change” in the Amendment.  You won’t.  Nor will you find any hint that climate change results from human activity.  There are still old school climate deniers who call climate change a “hoax” (one of them is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) or who insist that the planet is cooling, not warming.  But today’s sophisticated climate denier admits that the earth is getting hotter.  But he adds that this isn’t humans’ fault—it is the work of recurring natural cycles.  Why, there were periods before humanity existed when the earth was even hotter than it is today!

So, the Langevin Amendment lets mankind off the hook for the changing climate and its ill consequences.  This means there is no need for humans to curb carbon emissions and the Langevin Amendment doesn’t ask us to.  Fire up them coal-powered generators.  Burn that oil.  Keep on fracking, baby.  The Langevin Amendment keeps business as usual rolling along.

The Pentagon’s Threat to US National Security

If climate change is a threat to national security, as the Langevin Amendment says, what if the US armed forces turn out to be a leading source of carbon emissions?  Does that make the Pentagon a threat to national security?

Seems like, although the Langevin Amendment is careful not to say so.  The US military has an enormous negative impact on the environment.  Sara Flounders of the International Action Center writes:

[T]he Pentagon, the U.S. military machine, is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products and the world’s worst polluter of greenhouse gas emissions and many other toxic pollutants.[5]

Why’s that?  Simple.  The Pentagon needs massive amounts of oil in order to secure American access to…massive amounts of oil.[6]  Foreign oil.  In other words, the US military consumes oil so that the US economy can consume oil.  The CO2 emitted in US military operations leads to further CO2 emissions domestically.

The Wars Must Go On!

You won’t learn any of this from the Langevin Amendment.  As we already remarked, the Langevin Amendment glosses over homo sapiens’ impact on climate.  What the Langevin Amendment cares about is how climate change affects the military, not how the military affects the climate.

The Langevin Amendment’s motivating concern is the danger that climate change may cripple the US military’s ability to wage war.  (The “Department of Defense must ensure that it is prepared to conduct operations both today and in the future.”)  That’s why Republicans voted for the Langevin Amendment in droves.

Consider rising sea levels resulting from climate change.  The Langevin Amendment observes that:

A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years.

Since the armed forces have more than one thousand bases worldwide, you might wonder why this matters, but it does.  The Amendment specifically mentions a $1 billion radar station sitting a mere ten feet above current sea level on a tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands.  The radar station “is projected to be underwater within two decades.”

Owing to ths danger, the Langevin Amendment directs the DoD to submit a report to Congress which will include “A list of the ten most vulnerable military installations within each service based on the effects of rising sea tides, increased flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, thawing permafrost,” etc. “over the next 20 years.”  The report should also discuss possible mitigation efforts to keep vulnerable bases operating.

Climate change will be the wellspring of the wars of the future.  A warming planet means droughts—and floods–desertification, soil erosion, crop failures, and famines.  These “drivers of instability” will create waves of climate refugees bursting through international borders desperately seeking food and water to survive.[7]  Large-scale violent conflicts will follow.  Inhabitable regions will contract sharply.  Failed states, which the Langevin Amendment describes as “breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations,” will be another casualty of climate change.

As usual, the global South will pay for the sins of the developed world.  Most CO2 is produced by the industrialized nations, particularly the United States.  Although it has been overtaken by China in current emissions, the US is historically the world’s largest carbon polluter.[8]  But the climate wars will be fought in developing countries.

Except at the poles.  The Langevin Amendment mentions the Arctic’s “melting sea ice [and] thawing permafrost.”  The Amendment quotes a statement from US Defense Secretary James Mattis that “increased maritime access to the Arctic” will “impact our security situation.”  Earlier this month, a chunk of the Larsen C ice shelf as big as the state of Delaware broke off of Antarctica.  We can foresee new battlegrounds for Naval warfare at the poles, possibly between the US and Russia, out to grab previously inaccessible natural resources.

The Pentagon has been thinking about climate change for years.  It is readying itself for the climate wars.  But a “green” military is still in the business of war and imperialism.  If we are serious about arresting climate change we are going to have to put the military machine out of business.  The US may one day be able to kill using solar-powered drones (yes, that is actually something we are working on).  Still, even if the Pentagon outsourced all its assassinations to the Sierra Club, that would be no reason for US victims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere to celebrate.  Ending war is the most environmentally-friendly thing humans can do.

Charles Pierson is a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition.  E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com

[1]  Kate Wheeling, House Committee Passes Defense Policy Bill with Climate Change Amendment, PACIFIC STANDARD, June 29, 2017.

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  185 Republicans voted in favor of the Perry Amendment, 46 against, and 8 did not vote.  No Democrat voted for the Perry Amendment, 188 voted against, and 8 Democrats did not vote.  See CLERK OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES at

clerk.house.gov/evs/2017/roll368.xml

[4]  22 out of 24 GOP members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus voted against the Perry Amendment.  Mark Hand, 46 Republicans Buck Party to Help Democrats Take Down Anti-Climate Action Amendment, ThinkProgress, July 14, 2017.  Yes, Virginia, there are Republicans in the House Climate Solutions Caucus and climate denier Darrell Issa (R-CA) is one of them.  Ibid.  Issa, too, cast his vote against the Perry Amendment.  Ibid.  The House Climate Solutions Caucus has been criticized as long on fine-sounding rhetoric and short on action—climate “peacocks,” rather than climate “hawks.”  Mark Hand, Congress’ ‘Climate Peacocks’ Are More about Image than Action, ThinkProgress, June 15, 2017.  The presence of Issa as one of their number will do nothing to dispel this notion.

[5]  Sara Flounders, The Pentagon—The Climate Elephant, INT”L ACTION CENTER, Sept. 14, 2014, quoted in Joyce Nelson, The Pentagon’s Carbon Boot Print, COUNTERPUNCH, Dec. 4, 2015.

[6]  Gar Smith, The Hidden Villain of Global Warming—The Pentagon, COMMON DREAMS, Nov. 17, 2015.

[7]  Paul Hockenos, The Climate Wars Are Coming—And More Refugees with Them, AL JAZEERA AMERICA, Sept. 17, 2015.

[8]  Justin Gillis and Nadja Popovich, The U.S. Is the Biggest Carbon Polluter in History.  It Just Walked Away from the Paris Climate Deal, N.Y. TIMES, June 1, 2017.

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