Isn’t It Time to “Send in the Cavalry” for the Coming U.S. Climate Catastrophies?

An overheated planet doesn’t just mean an extraordinarily early blooming of cherry trees and daffodils. It means rising sea levels all along our coasts from melting glaciers inundating East and West coasts and all Gulf states. Atmospheric clashes of hot and cold air from now on will be spawning super-sized hurricanes and tornados for the Gulf and Midwest. Killer heat waves—not just 18 days of 90+ºF in New York City, but 76 days. As for the near-waterless Southwest and California, they’ll be exploding in historic, widespread, ferocious forest fires.

Add to this reality the creation of millions of “climate refugees” who will be little different from those living in camps and caves in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey—all fleeing to “safer” places. Recall the 1930s when thousands of dust-bowl refugees (“Oakies”) poured into California, the Pacific Northwest and Canada for food, water, housing, health care, schools—and especially jobs. Oregonians have grumbled for decades about “transplanted” Californians ignoring  former Gov. Tom McCall’s admonition “Come visit, but don’t stay.” That may turn into law with other states barring passage to refugees at gunpoint as in Katrina, and in the nation’s worst flood in 1927.

Those with money will boost spiraling of rents, food prices, real estate values, and property taxes. Those out of luck will swell northern populations with millions of starving, ailing, homeless, and jobless refugees. Suffice it to say, no welcome mat will be unrolled for the tired, poor, huddled masses “yearning” even to breathe. Violence is a certainty.

Aside from this terrifying eventuality, who’ll be there to do rescue-and-relief work?

Who’ll be there to prevent refugee genocide?

In Western films, it was the cavalry who rode to the rescue. In the oncoming climate Armageddon for this country, it won’t be the cavalry, but the only force available and capable of handling this monumental assignment—like it or not—the Department of Defense (DOD). It alone has the manpower, resources, and instant-response abilities to deal with domestic crises of this dimension.

Forget rescue-and-relief from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the ill-equipped, feeble, dithering, puny agency (14,844 employees) presumed to cope with the coming colossus of natural disasters. Or its parent agency DHS (Department of Homeland Security). FEMA’s deficiencies have been well documented: poor preparedness, weak leadership, tardy staff arrivals, lack of coordination, lack of enforcement powers, duplicated efforts, supply shortages, turf wars, bureaucratic bungling and bullying, poisonous trailer shelters, little financial oversight, and outright fraud. FEMA’s role could be moot because Republican leadership in the House of Representatives recently almost stopped funding DHS.

Not even the venerable Red Cross distinguished itself in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and New Jersey. Instead, accolades went to Occupy alumni who are still helping the stricken. Staten Island’s borough president accused the Red Cross of “slow response,” despite claims of sending “its entire fleet of more than 320 feeding trucks and nearly 6,000 relief workers to the hard-hit areas.”

With such track records, it’s heartening to learn that the Department of Defense is living up to its name where the homeland is concerned. It’s laying plans for the worst of what’s ahead for this country. As outgoing Defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced a few weeks ago:

Among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change. Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.

… The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters…. Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning. Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure. By taking a proactive, flexible approach to assessment, analysis, and adaptation, the Defense Department will keep pace with a changing climate, minimize its impacts on our missions, and continue to protect our national security.”

Among the changes Hagel detailed in that “Roadmap” were:

  • Fixing coastal military installations vulnerable to flooding.
  • More frequent humanitarian-assistance missions from increasingly intense natural disasters.
  • Weapons and other critical military equipment to cope with more severe weather.

Pentagon Has ‘Climate Intervention’ Tool

Along with his assurances, is a recently released study (partly funded by the CIA) from the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that one way to protect the American public is a powerful, unnamed tool that could “reflect sunlight away from Earth (aka “albedo modification”) before planet burns up. The study’s authors call it the “climate intervention” tool.

Called the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), two out of its three purposes were to detect incoming ballistic missiles. The third was to manipulate weather. HAARP’s array of 180 dipole antennas can generate enough energy to heat parts of the ionosphere. The Pentagon placed the installation

on the tundra valley floor of the mountains surrounding the isolation of Gakona, Alaska. HAARP has had nearly 25 years of shooting radioactive energy 500 miles into the upper atmosphere.

The installation was designed and built by a Raytheon subsidiary and is operated by Air Force, Navy, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  Curiously omitted from this project were DHS, FEMA, the U.S. Weather Service, and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Hagel’s replacement is Ashton Carter, a hard-line hawk who supports sending arms to the Ukraine, a harbinger of priorities for this year’s $600,000,000,000 appropriation: endless war in foreign lands. It’s doubtful that rescue-and-relief and peacekeeping plans will get much attention. Carter is among Congressional leaders with Empire-America views such as warhawks Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-DE), and David Vitter (R-LA), and Secretary of State John Kerry of Massachusetts.

If they think about domestic cataclysms at all, it’s probably that FEMA/DHS, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and local volunteers will man the barricades, as with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Or that action can be sloughed off to other governmental agencies, hopefully without the kind of blundering accompanying the nuclear-plant meltdown at Fukushima, Japan. Worse, as in Haiti, they seem to agree with former U.S. leaders such as president Bill Clinton at a Davos, Switzerland World Economic Forum. He encouraged the global real-estate ghouls to take advantage of luxury development “opportunities” on land cleared of people and property in Haiti. “Disaster capitalism” Naomi Klein called it in her book Shock Doctrine about those profiting from natural or man-made disasters.

It’s possible, of course, by Election Day 2016—perhaps after two massive hurricane/forest-fire seasons devastate this country—that a new, fast-rising “Syriza-like” people’s movement will demand domestic needs trump endless wars. As in Greece, voters en mass may install an efficient, take-charge president to the White House, who’ll do just that, starting with ending foreign aid when such charity today must “begin at home.” Last year, such aid totaled $32,874,556,000, much for providing weaponry and military training despite recipients’ heavy absenteeism, desertions, or blackmarket sales of U.S. arms and military equipment when Iraqi/Afghani soldiers flee from powerful rebel forces.

The U.S. Worst Flood: the Mississippi River in 1927

Voters may finally realize that, aside from a Pentagon’s all-out response, is a president like Calvin Coolidge (“Silent Cal”).

Who can imagine that history’s much-derided 30th president successfully directed rescue-and-relief operations in America’s worst natural disaster to date: the 1927 Mississippi River great flood. That spring unseasonable heavy rains in the Upper Midwest caused the river to gather up its swollen northern tributaries at Cairo, Illinois to roar south through seven states to the Gulf of Mexico and threatened to change its riverbed to central Louisiana. It broke 145 levees and was sometimes 100 miles wide. More than 10 crests overtopped levees, even the tallest (38 feet). The highest was 61.3 feet at Louisiana’s Red River Landing; the lowest: 47.3 feet at Baton Rouge. The river’s speed still holds records of 2,120,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) by the time it bypassed New Orleans, thanks to upriver breaks from two other major levees.

Coolidge’s direction and the War Department’s men and women saved more than a million lives. Fortunately, neither FEMA nor DHS existed then. If they had, Coolidge probably would have thrust them aside for the War Department. Or ensured that they never came into existence in the first place.

The War Department Scrambled for America’s Worst Natural Disaster

The War Department scrambled its superbly trained personnel, equipment, and supplies. Within two days, its people were on the front lines: 800 large ships from the Navy and 128 small boats from the Coast Guard pulled 43,853 people off “rooftops, chimneys, utility poles, railroad cars, collapsing levees and treetops.” The Coast Guard’s 674-member rescue team also saved 11,313 head of livestock and rushed 72 injured refugees to hospitals.

The Navy and National Guard flew endless rescue-and-supply missions. The Army furnished tents, cots, blankets, rations, and field kitchens to the thousands of refugees in 154 levee camps—even teaching basic plumbing. National Guard units kept order at gunpoint in levee camps.

The devastation left 137,000 damaged or destroyed buildings. The flood’s prime scholar, John M. Barry, estimated that the river “destroyed the homes of almost one percent of the entire [U.S.] population….[From mid-April to]  July 1, 1.5 million acres remained underwater” including 36 out of 75 Arkansas counties, in some places 30 feet deep. On both sides of the river—Cairo to the Gulf—it took 153 days (April to September) for water to be absorbed into the Mississippi’s vast floodplain. Some 27,000 square miles were inundated. Financial losses totaled $4,687,970,000 (in 2013 dollars).

No accurate count of the dead has ever been made because hundreds were either buried alive in levee mud or swept downriver to a Gulf burial. Survivors numbered 937,476. Nearly half spent weeks on 1,000 miles of mostly levees in those 154 tented camps. The relief burden then fell chiefly to the Red Cross and other relief groups such as the Salvation Army.

Rescue Costs Covered by War Department Appropriation

Coolidge’s radio appeals for Red Cross funding net millions, but he refused Congressional and public outcries for rebuilding and survivors’ relief because it meant dipping into the annual interest savings of $384,999,000 the administration had been earning for general-revenues. Because the War Department was already funded for the year, expenses were already covered.

Consider what’s happening today with the traditional White House and Congressional pressures on the Pentagon to protect the “national interests.” Historically, those “interests” have always involved businesses, dating from the 1600s when the British plundering our resources at gunpoint. By the late 1700s, the U.S. military was doing the same for American businesses exploiting weak foreign areas.

The fledgling U.S. Navy and Marines were used in the 1800s to protect American commercial ships. The U.S. Army was ordered to provoke Mexico in the early 1840s, to seize Mexican land for cotton planters and other entrepreneurs under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. The same military power was used to protect businesses exploiting resources in Central America and the Philippines—or to prevent foreign competition. Today, it’s Chevron’s  $10,000,000,000 deal to frack shale gas in the Ukraine’s western area, Shell for another $10,000,000 in the eastern sector. Soon, the public may be told that U.S. “national interests” require  “boots on the ground” to end this ongoing, brutal civil war.

These were not deeds to protect America’s ordinary people, despite the U.S. Marines’ celebrated, snappy hymn (“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”). Most of these military actions didn’t involve Constitutional guarantees for domestic tranquility, nor did most of those overseas wars promote Americans’ general welfare. Instead, it chiefly provided protection for the welfare of American business interests in the world’s marketplaces.

Take the Pentagon’s “Pivot to Africa,” begun in 2007 with an “African Command” (AFRICOM) at growing cost to taxpayers. As one major investigative reporter covering the U.S. military reported last September when Pentagon officials claimed the U.S. had only a “small footprint” in that gigantic, resource-rich continent:

They’re involved in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and he Cape Verde Islands. …Skip to the end of the alphabet and the story remains the same: Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the U.S. military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion.

‘National Interests’ Are Always ‘Business Interests’

In short, for the last 239 years taxpayers have shed blood and billions so businesses could exploit, develop and profit off foreign enterprises.

Consider what’s happened since 2002 when the public was told by leaders whom most trusted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction—though it did not. What it had were the second largest oil fields in the world.  Seizing them for U.S. multinational oil companies has cost taxpayers more than $908,050,000,000 in war and occupation. Aside from billions earned by the 10 global oil companies awarded contracts to those vast fields, this action has achieved little but world hatred and the rise of the avenging ISIS army. Not to mention 81,342 American casualties, including 6,840 killed in action.

Taxpayer expense in the 13-year-old Afghanistan occupation—a holding action for a long-planned Caspian Sea-Indian Ocean  pipeline—stands at $753,300,000,000 with 40,850 casualties, including 2,349 dead. Total cost for “national-interest”  wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “global war on terror” since 9/11 recently was estimated at $1,600,000,000,000. Lifetime care of wounded from both Iraq/Afghanistan wars is estimated at $836,100,000,000. Waste, local corruption and theft alone for Afghanistan’s reconstruction in 2012 came to nearly $7,000,000,000 out of a $10,600,000,000 line item for that purpose.

Past Administrations and Congresses have forced the Pentagon to become the world’s police force to be sure, but only to protect business interests.

The Pentagon’s appropriation for FY 2015 of $572,042,000,000 includes $6,600,000,000 for military construction, and $64,000,000,000 for Overseas Contingency Operations for 7,000 foreign bases, drone attacks, air strikes, and “advisors” to train foreign armies. Fortunately, this particular budget for “national interests” finally has begun to unleash public outrage because of crucial needs at home, though not funds for climate-change emergencies. One Iraq expert praised the Pentagon’s climate reports, particularly in warning that the homeland’s greatest threat will be environmental disasters, but added:

The reports don’t acknowledge that the US military has commandeered vast resources, in terms of money and scientific “know-how,” that are acutely needed for use in solving our global crisis. These resources are steadily directed toward developing more weapons and fighting more wars….[T]he US military’s Asia Pivot strategy …aims to encircle China with military bases and threaten China’s ability to import and export resources. Any rational plan for changing human consumption and pollution patterns should surely view China as a foremost global partner is devising new ways to halt global warming and negotiate fairly over consumption of resources.

Today, U.S multinational corporations are still demanding military protection as they seek foreign resources: oil, natural gas, bauxite, lithium. Or to block China from African markets. Worse, many of these protected corporations evade taxes with overseas shelters and save billions on labor costs and safety regulations by moving operations offshore. Environmental author Harvey Wasserman summed up the situation in two exasperated sentences:

The corporate monster’s primary assault mechanism is war, the continual slaughter of humans and the Earth. War’s only predictable long-term outcome is massive corporate profit and a destroyed planet.

Billing Businesses for Pentagon Protection

When weighing Pentagon past actions on behalf of “business interests” against addressing climate emergency needs, one solution seems obvious: Why not bill businesses for such security services? After all, they certainly pay private firms for home-office protection. Such a policy would free up billions for the Pentagon so it could shift whole divisions for rescue-and-relief and policing services in waging war on climate disasters. One sizable budget cut would be for energy costs and carbon emissions by less need to use ships, aircraft, and military vehicles.

Pentagon action for climate warfare will require hundreds of thousands of service personnel. It can’t be palmed off to the National Guard or the Corps of Engineers or the Navy’s Construction battalions (the Seabees). Thousands of National Guardsmen now serve with the Army. And those 6,000 Seabees are building installations in foreign lands. The Corps of Engineers has only 37,000 (23,000 civilians), but hundreds are scattered among 130 countries.

Other advantages suggest themselves once businesses foot bills for military protection. A major one is fixing the long-ignored, prohibitively expensive domestic needs.

For example, today’s states and municipalities cannot afford either to address future climate horrors, much less the $2,200,000,000,000 in crumbling infrastructure estimated for 2014 alone by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Most cannot raise taxes adequately, nor do they have bond ratings sufficient to borrow billions to repair what they have. Detroit and California’s Stockton and San Bernardino have become the first poster children for local government bankruptcies that lie straight ahead.

But what if the Armed Forces were rotated, like the 3,000,000 troops of the hugely popular Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s New Deal programs. Duty  would be fixing that two trillion dollars worth of infrastructure. It involves crumbling bridges, potholed roads and polluted waterways to schools and hospitals, reforestation to reclamation efforts in areas the fossil-fuel industry usually has ignored.

The Pentagon also could provide a workforce who could be trained to work with governmental agencies desperately short of personnel, especially to monitor and enforce regulations governing such things as:

  • veterans’ and civilian health care • industrial safety • taxes
  • banking •interstate commerce • forestry and fisheries
  • parks and recreation •food and drugs •agriculture
  • public housing • Social Security •parks and recreation
  • consumer protection • public education

Beyond these needs, many could relieve the nation’s acute teacher shortages in public schools (40-students classes, disciplinary problems). In one post-Vietnam program at Philadelphia’s Temple University, 500 black veterans ended disorder in ghetto schools while teaching on emergency certificates and earning degrees in their fields. It could be resurrected for this kind of temporary teaching force. Custodial and security staffs could be increased at public schools and municipal hospitals. Significant shortages could be solved for highway patrols, county deputies, local police departments, and jail and prison staffs.

High Morale, Low Costs, Marketable Skills vs. Suicidal Depression

Millions who served in the Great Depression’s Works Project Administration (WPA) and the CCC, learned career skills on the job. Like them, military personnel shifted into such domestic duties would emerge with job networks, marketable abilities, and purpose that truly are in the country’s “national interests.” More than this, think of the lives saved, the life-long physical and mental health problems averted from VA care and costs. Think, too, of the high morale, the appreciation and love of this country that developed in the hearts of millions of CCC participants; it’s a significant departure from the suicidal depression of most combat veterans.

True, today’s 450,000 volunteer army did not sign up for such duty. They were trained to kill on land, sea, or air—or by drone. They’d see little excitement, honor, glory, medals, or “Sniper-like” war stories in the back-breaking toil usually done by gigantic construction vendors like Bechtel and Halliburton and legions of local sub- and sub-contractors.

With such a policy change, most would hate to swing hammers, install boilers and furnaces. Learn plumbing, electricity, installing wallboard, or windows. Or fixing potholes or bridges. Cleaning waterways and demolishing dams. Teaching arithmetic to second graders or pushing hospital gurneys. Or, for that matter, picking flood victims off rooftops , smoke-jumping into forest fires, setting up tent cities for tornado survivors. Or keeping order and doing cleanup services when gas or oil explosions or mammoth spills take out communities or poison drinking water supplies.

Service members incensed about such a historic shift from the killing fields, could always join a Blackwater-like outfit when their deployments end.

On the expenditure side, such a change to real “national interests” would cost almost nothing. Wages and benefits are included in Pentagon budgets. VA care costs would plummet. Too, military warehouses hold building materials, supplies, and equipment to tackle the weightiest of infrastructure projects.

Nor would the change adversely affect military vendors. They would still be outfitting the military (and the Blackwaters) and selling war materiél to foreign countries. But new profit lines would open to rebuild a crumbling and dead-broke America: sales of concrete, wood, metals, and other products. The Lockheeds and Halliburtons could upgrade, say, Amtrak and surface/subway systems which indirectly would cut vehicular traffic and, thereby, major carbon emissions.

Today’s war-weary public is becoming increasingly aware that past and present Administrations have sacrificed the nation’s youth and treasure abroad to protect corporate “interests” in “endless wars.” They would be elated and grateful that the Pentagon is getting ready to protect them in the climate disasters ahead.

National candidates in the run-up to the 2016 election might do well at the polls if they have the courage to emphasize this point. The heavy weather ahead portends this critical need, as climate expert Rebecca Solnit recently emphasized:

[O]rdinary people will behave badly in an era of intensified climate change. ….[N]ote that climate change is itself violence. Extreme, horrific, long-term, widespread violence.

In the meantime, the Pentagon deserves a major shout-out for its public announcement that it is planning for the coming climate catastrophe. As its 1927 record shows, it will be ready to “provide for the common defense” vital for the homefront “from sea to shining sea.” It’s now time indeed to “call in the cavalry” to protect the “interests” of ordinary Americans. Wouldn’t that be a better way to spend the trillions of taxpayer monies chiefly to protect business interests around the globe?

Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D., is the principal of a Portland (OR) writing/pr firm and a professional writer. A long-time journalist, she was a journalism professor at (Oregon State University/Louisiana’s McNeese State University). She’s written dozens of articles for magazines, several books, was a nominee for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history (The Moving Appeal). A 350.org member and life-long political activist, she has been involved in geography and hydrology courses at Portland State University. Read other articles by Barbara.