The campaign to salvage the climate bill now has a new buzzword, “climate security,” and a new ally, the Pentagon. Its security planners have been telling reporters that climate change will loom large in the national security strategy they’re working on.

The military has begun studying, and taking seriously, the scenarios of climate-induced water and food shortages precipitating violent conflicts on a global scale. The message embedded none too deeply in these studies: Unless these scenarios can be changed, our forces will be overwhelmed. Either stem rising global temperatures, or prepare to grow the military. A lot.

The question is whether financial planning is going to back up their strategic planning; that is, whether this new strategic direction will be underwritten by the budget.

The timing of this climate security hype is no accident. President Dwight Eisenhower learned long ago that his plans to build a national network of highways sold much better when he called it the National Security Highway System. The climate bill is in trouble, squeezed by charges that it is too ambitious, and that it’s not ambitious enough. Time to play the national security card.

This is more than just gamesmanship, though. As the Pentagon’s studies are making clear, the climate security threat is real. And members of Congress who ignore these scenarios as they make up their minds about climate legislation will, in fact, be derelict in their duty to protect our national security.

So what will this climate security strategy entail? In addition to providing a potent rationale for strong legislation reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Pentagon planners will do what they’re mostly paid to do, which is figure out, based on these assessments of the threat, what size and shape of military forces will be required to confront it.

Beyond that, the military has also begun taking seriously its own status as the world’s largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases. Solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations are beginning to spring up on military bases across the country.

But it is highly doubtful that their planning will take the next crucial step: resizing our overall portfolio of security dollars to fit the enlarged importance they are assigning to this new threat.

Back in January 2008, I looked at the Bush administration’s spending on climate, which hovered around $7 billion, compared with funding for its military forces, which that year totaled nearly $650 billion. That worked out to a spending level of about $88 on military security for every dollar we were allocating to the urgent task of arresting climate change.

The Obama administration hasn’t yet published a climate change budget, so I did a preliminary calculation of what they’ve spent so far. The administration’s first budget request added only about $3 billion in climate spending to the Bush administration’s total, while increasing the military budget to $687 billion. This turns out to shrink the gap between military as opposed to climate security spending from 88:1 to 65:1.

An improvement, to be sure. But given the military’s own assessment of climate change as a major global security threat, administration officials need to do better than that.

And in a way, they have. They spent much higher amounts on climate in their stimulus package – the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – than in the regular budget: about $68 billion in total. This brings the overall balance of spending on military vs. climate security to 9:1 – much more in line with the importance of the climate threat.

But, the Recovery Act was a one-time appropriation. A real national security strategy will not only size the threat, but size the regular budget to match it.

Miriam Pemberton is a research fellow with the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies. She recently published "Military vs. Climate Security: Mapping the Transition From the Bush Years to the Obama Era."

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