The Pope and U. S. Military Voice Support for Action on Climate Change

A water distribution point at the Ifo extension camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Drought, desertification, water scarcity and population dislocation are among the climate-related threats that pose risks to global stability and national security, according to a new assessment by former U. S. military officials. Photo: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees / S. Modola.
A water distribution point at the Ifo extension camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Drought, desertification, water scarcity and population dislocation are among the climate-related threats that pose risks to global stability and national security, according to a new assessment by former U. S. military officials. Photo: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees / S. Modola.

As the Obama administration unveils its plan to slash carbon pollution from U. S. power plants, the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church and former top brass in the U. S. military have each issued proclamations in support of climate protection.

In recent weeks, Pope Francis and a group of 16 retired U. S. military admirals and generals called separately and unequivocally for action to safeguard humanity by protecting the planet.

“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” the Pope said before a large crowd gathered in Rome on May 21.

Calling the exploitation and destruction of nature a “sin,” Pope Francis told his flock to see the Creation not as “property, which we can rule over at will,” but as “a gift.”  He called on humanity to be “not Masters of Creation” but “Custodians of Creation.”

The Pope delivered his message after a five-day summit in early May hosted by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, titled “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.”  It brought together an esteemed group of scientists, economists, philosophers, legal scholars and others to discuss the impacts of global climate disruption and environmental change.

For their part, the former military leaders issued an update to their landmark 2007 report, which had branded global climate change “a threat multiplier,” aggravating stressors that breed terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Now, just seven years later, citing the impacts of extreme weather, such as “prolonged drought and flooding – and resulting food shortages, desertification, population dislocation and mass migration, and sea level rise,” this elite group of three and four-star admirals and generals has come together again to warn that in many areas climate impacts will be more than threat multipliers: they will be “catalysts for instability and conflict.”

Much of the update, titled National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, focuses on the military group’s mounting concerns about the impacts of climate disruption on the nexus of water, food and energy security and the implications for social and political stability.

They link recent political upheavals and potential new terrorist threats in areas such as Mali, northern Africa, and Syria variously to drought, desertification, rising food prices and food insecurity.  While by no means the sole factors, these climate-related stresses may be catalyzing conflicts.

On May 15, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released its assessment that this year’s wheat harvest in Syria – impacted by an “exceptionally dry” January and February – will be some 52 percent below the annual average for 2001-2011.

The former military leaders note that more than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the world is warming and that human actions are the primary cause.  They call for the United States to lead global efforts to develop a more sustainable and efficient energy system to slow the pace of destructive climate impacts.

“If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty,” retired U. S. Army General Gordon Sullivan says in the report, “something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

In their foreword to the report, published by the nonprofit, Virginia-based CNA Corporation, Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush Administration, and Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration, extol it as “a bipartisan call to action.”

“We no longer have the option to wait and see,” they warn.

That President Obama is forced to use executive administrative orders, in this case through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to get meaningful action on climate change is due to Congress abdicating its role, argues Harvard Law Professor Jody Freeman in a New York Times opinion piece.

Yet despite the fact that the EPA’s approach “has a solid legal foundation,” Freeman writes, legal challenges “could tie up this effort for years.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis, told those gathered in Rome that humanity’s responsibility is to “safeguard Creation.”

“Creation is a gift,” that we care for and use “for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project, Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, and author of several books and numerous articles on global water issues.  She is co-creator of Change the Course, the national freshwater conservation and restoration campaign being piloted in the Colorado River Basin.

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity. From 2009-2015, she served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. Sandra is also co-creator of Change the Course, the national water stewardship initiative awarded the 2017 US Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands. The recipient of several honorary degrees, she works to bridge science, policy, and practice to promote innovative ways of securing water to meet both human and ecosystem needs.
  • Jay


    What a duo! When the leaders of the world’s greatest killing machine and the world’s greatest forgiving machine get together…run.


  • Russell Haney

    So the so called ‘religious leader’ of the world says he does not believe the Bible when he says that God was wrong when He said he would not destroy the world again after the flood. Not to mention how we can get to the Second Coming if we actually had the power to destroy Gods creation. Now if he could just get past that pesky ‘salvation’ plan of Jesus’ and find another way to make more billions of dollars off the poor and ignorant.

    As for the generals? After spending 26 years in the military I can say that every “top leadership” general is a political appointment and most are not worth the paper they are inflated on.

  • Bob

    The Pope is an ideologue with no scientific training and in this matter irrelevant. As for the President somebody needs to explain to the world what a community organizer has to do regarding weather/climate forecasting? The U.S. military plans for all contingencies. However, today’s leadership even retired leadership, is more politically motivated and subject to coercion by the political know nothings . What is meant by the military’s concern needs be weighed between preparedness or gutless submission to the pols who gave them their positions. As for the expert academicians claiming man is the necessary evil in the global warming picture, who are they and what irrefutable, measured, statistical data do they have? And how does this compare to the ice core and tree ring history of the planet’s climate? Might it be possible a perturbation in the planet’s orbital mechanics is the cause? What of the solar sun spot cycle? And should we be concerned that major volcanic eruptions put more pollutant into the atmosphere than all of mankind’s industry? In today’s “me look at me I am the expert talking head about everything” world maybe this issue for control of human behavior is wrong. Maybe we should work toward more efficient machines while not legislating higher energy prices by shutting down power plants fueled by clean coal. Send the retorts, but if you do specifics better accompany them. Journalistic generalities crying “fire” are everywhere and equate to meaningless drivel.

    • Bob, I must turn this right back to you and suggest you read the peer-reviewed science on climate change. While there are differences over the specifics, to be sure, 97% of informed climate scientists say the earth is warming due to emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases due to human activities. Many energy companies now accept this.

  • Stephen Nagy

    This article seems to be a stretch to try to specifically support its title. Did I miss something? Where did the Pope or the US Military voice there support on the EPA’s regulation?

    • Of course neither the Pope nor this group of military leaders has come out specifically endorsing the EPA’s draft plan announced yesterday, nor does my article say that they do.

  • Jerry Crumley

    We need a paradigm shift in energy production! I think these guys are on the right track:


  • Alexander

    Headline.: The pope and US military support for action on climate change.
    Hello, I appreciate to read this, could you send this text to my webadress. May i ask for allowance to link this articel and to duplicate it. Thank you.


  • SFC Christopher

    The Pope should focus his attention on freeing USMC SGT Andrew Tahmoressi from his Mexican captors and return him to the US immediately. Why doesn’t the Pope put his efforts into human suffering that’s being done by these part-time Catholics that are torturing a US Marine in Mexican prison?! Makes you want to renounce Catholicism, get it Francis?

  • Bao Nguyen

    A well written article…too bad the fox news watching crowd has been posting their climate denial propaganda in the comments. Don’t worry, the remaining 99% of us can see the reality we face. Thanks for the article Sandra!

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