Environmentalism: A Military Approach

By taking a look at what he calls “environmentality,” Marzec shows how a military look at environmentalism has turned into the ill-conceived idea that human adaptation should trump the effort for sustainable living.


| September 2016



Soldier saluting

"Adaptation provides perfect camouflage for military institutions bent on governing environmental anxieties from the standpoint of national security."

Photo by Fotolia/Photocreo Bednarek

The primary concern of Robert P. Marzec’s book, Militarizing the Environment (University of Minnesota, 2015), is how the military and the national security state are moving into the realm of environmentalism. Rather than finding sustainable ways to protect the environment, “militarizing” the issue turns the focus toward our ability to adapt to the declining natural world. It is especially worrying in when it comes to events like climate change, which are being viewed as inevitable rather than preventable. With this mindset, the effort to stop the decline all but disappears. While his book brings this issue to light, calls for a focus on sustainable living internationally, and even offers alternative solutions, Marzec proves that humankind, even in a dying world, will manipulate nature’s most complex issues into studies on our own survival.

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Climate Change War Games

“Nature is a powerful security system.”
— Rafe Sagarin, Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease

“Climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror.”
— Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, former commander-in- chief, U.S. Naval Forces

On July 27, 2008, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), with the help of the United States military, members and institutes of the scientific community, private corporations, public policy institutes, national funding agencies, and ABC News, engaged in a two-day, new type of military exercise: the Climate Change War Game. The goal of the game was clear: “to explore the national security consequences of climate change.”1 The CNAS is perhaps the first in what will no doubt be a growing number of post–Cold War, post–homeland security institutions. A public policy think tank created in 2007, the CNAS’s mission is to explore future threats to national security that come in the form of “irregular warfare.” The original concept for the center arose out of the idea that security issues in the twenty-first century will need to be revolutionized (referred to in Pentagon circles as “the revolution in military affairs”) to address twenty-first- century problems such as diminishing natural planetary resources. Its existence is indicative, as we will see throughout the course of this book, of a general trend to decentralize and expand the security society by replacing the nation-state collective fantasy of national security with the new planetary ecological-state collective fantasy of natural security. Its co-opting of environmental care and its reduction of complex ecological relations within the military parameters of a war game exemplify the primary concern of this book: the extension of the military and the national security state into the arena of environmentalism.

Various potentials for developing new forms of sustainability were floated throughout the early stages of the game, but as it progressed, players found such approaches to be a worrisome distraction from the central issue of security: “A focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions runs the risk of crowding out full consideration of adaptation challenges.” Climate change was seen to be unavoidable and adaptation to the threat a more reasonable response than the exploration of new forms of sustainability. “Adaptation” — where ecosystems meet the war machine — became the command imperative to be disseminated down all lines of communication. As the inevitable end point of the war game’s linear narrative, the idea navigated game players in the direction of transforming climate change into a “threat multiplier,” one that trumped alternative ecological relations and possibilities. The concept of adaptation is a critical and necessary component of scientific efforts to address climate change, and it is important to recognize that salient fact. Due to considerable anthropocentric influence, climate change has already become inevitable, and adjusting to this change will be an essential historical task of humanity in the coming century. However, it is of equal importance to recognize that the concept is now functioning at a moment when humans have taken on the idea of security as a fundamental mandate of political existence. As part of a new ecosecurity imaginary, “adaptation” acquires a very different ontological character — commandeering consciousness to adopt a “clear” intelligibility that supplants the hard work of thinking alternative futures to a neoliberal paradigm. Arising out of a post–Cold War, end-of- history rationality, it tacitly obviates such diverse traditions as the wilderness sublime of Wordsworth and Thoreau, the ecstatic environmentalism of John Muir, the romantic primitivism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the land ethic of Aldo Leopold, the embittered inhumanism of Robinson Jeffers, and the scientific environmentalism of Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner — to name only a few.