Global Waring: How climate crisis is changing the rules of engagement

Global warming is already recognised as having influenced armed conflict

GOVERNMENTS could soon be waging ‘environmental wars’ against other states in the name of curtailing rising climate chaos.

Military interventions launched against environmental wrongdoers could soon be the go to casus belli for leaders facing growing climate security concerns.

This is the view of a leading American professor of ethics who has authored an article in the Journal of Military Ethics arguing there is a just cause for wars preventing future climate change.

Professor Adam Betz at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania argues:

“The types and scale of prospective harms threatened by climate change are such that, were they to result from an armed attack, there would unequivocally be a just cause for war.”

Global warming is already recognised as having influenced armed conflict, the role of severe drought – worsened by climate change – in helping trigger the Syrian civil war is one apt example.

Rising sea levels and crop failures have brought the heavy cost of man-made global warming into even greater focus.

With them the evidential demands justifying preventive military action to forestall climate change, given the serious implications for future generations.


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“In a world where everyone’s hands are dirty, environmental war could mean total war – an outcome that is at least as awful as the potential impact of future climate change,” said Betz.

Betz envisions enforcement of “no drill zones” in the Arctic regions, or perhaps limited attacks on oil refineries and coal plants.

He raises the possibility of targeted attacks on fossil fuel lobbyists, oil company executives, or even climate denying politicians – akin to state sponsored eco-terrorism.

The one sidedness of these ‘total wars’ would see poorer countries – the worst victims of climate change- with little chance of waging preventative wars against the high-polluting superpowers.

Betz said: “At present, the only international body that could potentially authorise and wage a preventive environmental war is the United Nations Security Council.

“The Security Council, however, would be in no position to target the world’s leading per capita polluter, the United States.

“For the United States is its central military power and will not wage war on itself.”

It is understood these wars would ultimately prove counterproductive and extremely costly to non-combatants.

“There appears no promising way of preserving the traditional combatant-noncombatant distinction in a preventive environmental war,” acknowledges Betz.

Future preventative environmental would likely be counterproductive and harm non-combatants

He continues: “Should non-coercive remedies fail, measures short of war […] should then be attempted to coerce compliance by environmental wrongdoers.

“Should these remedies prove ineffective, preventive environmental war may be a necessary evil.”

Betz was a post-doctoral fellow at the United States Naval Academy’s Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership from 2016-2018.

He currently teaches philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

The original Preventive Environmental Wars journal article can be read here: https://bit.ly/37cn6v2

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