February 26, 2016 | Commentary on Climate Change, Armed Forces, President Barack Obama

Saturday Q&A: Military Analyst Takes Aim at Climate Change Directive

Dakota Wood is The Heritage Foundation's senior research fellow for defense programs. Wood, who spent two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps, spoke to the Trib regarding the Pentagon recently ordering commanders to prioritize climate change in military actions.

Q: What prompted this directive?

A: It's important to keep in mind that senior civilian officials are political appointees and they're enacting the administration's legislative or policy agenda. So if the White House has a view on a social issue or environmental issue or national security issue, you would expect the people you've appointed into office to carry out that view.

What we're seeing on the environmental side is really a manifestation in defense policy of the Obama administration's views of global warming. And when you look at the defense department, I think it's the largest single user of fossil fuels in the country. If you are in the administration, that would be a great area to look at in terms of carbon footprint and usage of fossil fuels as opposed to alternative energy sources. Whether that makes sense in practical terms for military affairs is a related issue, but the genesis is the policy perspective on this matter. That policy perspective comes directly from President Obama. In a major foreign policy speech he made at West Point about a year ago, he made the point about global warming and environmentalism and the role of the military to both be aware of it and to prepare itself for it.

Q: Does it make sense in practical terms?

A: There is a heightened sense of urgency, as if we're going to see major (climate change) consequences in the next four or five years when these climate patterns unfold over centuries. … Then there's argument over whether the planet is actually heating or cooling. One study will say the ice shelf is contracting on the poles; another study says the Arctic ice mass is more extensive than ever. So who do you believe?

The services have only so much time and attention that they can apply to a program or to an initiative. Do you want them to be tactically proficient in conducting patrols, flying aircraft, delivering bombs on target, those kind of things? Or do you want them tweaking their views of near-term requirements to account for a condition that may not exist for 50 or 100 years down the road?

Q: Do you expect much resistance to this mandate from the people who have to implement it?

A: Like any of us, they only have so many hours in the day and so many things to which they can apply their attention. They really need to prioritize what's important as opposed to what might be aspirational. I think the time horizon here is so out of whack that people will roll their eyes for a moment and then they'll say, “OK, on to more important things.”

Q: So the directive ultimately might not have much impact?

A: This is a clear articulation of an administration's policy preferences — you know, putting them into writing so you can score that as a policy win to tout your credentials for a particular constituency. But in terms of meaningful impact and improving what the military does or what the Department of Defense does, it will have zero value.   

 - Dakota Wood is The Heritage Foundation's senior research fellow for defense programs.

 - This piece originally appeared in Trib Live. 

About the Author

Dakota Wood Senior Research Fellow, Defense Programs
Center for National Defense

Originally appeared in Trib Live