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ASN EI&E and “The Climate General” Talk Climate Readiness as Mission Readiness

10 July 2024

From Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jonteil Johnson

PENTAGON -- Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, & Environment (ASN EI&E) and Chief Sustainability Officer Meredith Berger hosted retired Dutch Gen. Tom Middendorp, former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands, during an all hands call in the Pentagon July 10, 2024.

“As we talk about climate readiness as mission readiness, Gen. Middendorp’s experience demonstrates it,” Berger said. “His message resonates with us as we work to build a climate-ready force. From increasing temperatures and sea levels to droughts and wildfires, climate change threatens our forces, communities and economies. Being a climate-ready force enables us to fight and win around the globe while anticipating, preparing for, recovering from, and adapting to the evolving climate and security future.”

According to Middendorp’s book, “The Climate General,” he made news following a 2016 speech after declaring, “Climate change is a cause of conflict,” adding that “the security sector was not paying enough attention to the climate and its impact on our existence.” His nickname was subsequently dubbed.

Middendorp discussed his time serving in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and how, despite brief success of clearing them from a local area, his team did not fully solve the problem as the Taliban would repeatedly return.

“It took a while before we understood what was going on there. We found out that it was all about water scarcity,” he said. “These were all farmers in an agricultural environment. They all needed water, and there wasn’t enough water. The Taliban jumped in to decide who got the water. That gave them enormous leverage over these [farmers] and the local population.”

Once Middendorp’s team realized the issue, they flew in water management experts who were able to negotiate a solution to divide the water among the population.

“Once that solution was accepted in the local population, it became quiet,” he said. “A year later after mediating the solution, I could walk through the main street with our current [Dutch] king with very limited protection, which shows the enormous turnaround that happened in that village. It shows that you can win fights not just by fighting, but also by addressing root causes. And one of the main root causes has to do with climate change.”

Middendorp also provided a broader perspective on how climate impacts global security and the importance of addressing issues now. He discussed increasing global competition, regional disruption, severe weather events, climate policies and legislation, and new opportunities, all of which offered compelling narratives to help communicate the issue of climate change.

He emphasized to the attendees the importance of their roles.

“All of you working in this team, working on this topic of climate and security, I want to encourage you to take up this fight,” he said. “You are on the front line of future security. This is about the future.”

Middendorp served in the Royal Netherlands Army for 38 years. His last assignment in uniform was as the Chief of Defence of the Dutch Armed Forces, serving as the senior military advisor to the Minister of Defence.

He spent much of his career advocating for not only clean energy conversion, but also reducing the amount of environmentally harmful energy sources.

“As a former service member, I know what the price of war is,” Middendorp has previously stated. “Where there is war, there is no room for climate mitigation and adaptation. This makes it imperative to work on both ends. Climate and conflict are two sides of the same coin; we need security and stability to address climate change, while dealing with climate change can help reduce the conflict sensitivity in fragile areas around the world.”

Throughout his career, he commanded troops at all levels, led a large multinational task force in southern Afghanistan and was involved in more than 20 international military missions.

Since 2019, he has been chairman of the International Military Council on Climate and Security.

In May 2022, the Department of the Navy released Climate Action 2030 in which Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro recognized climate change as one of the most destabilizing forces of our time and charged the Department with building a climate-ready force.

The Navy and Marine Corps considers climate impacts, risks, and opportunities in all relevant guidance and decision-making processes to improve effectiveness, efficiency and resilience.

Berger is responsible for providing oversight and policy for Navy and Marine Corps energy and climate resilience; infrastructure sustainment, restoration and modernization; military construction; acquisition, utilization and disposal of real property and facilities; environmental protection, planning, restoration and natural resources conservation; and safety and occupational health.


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