Pentagon adds ‘climate change’ to its official dictionary

By Ariel Wittenberg | 03/08/2016 01:03 PM EST

Climate change has a new home in the Pentagon’s lexicon as the latest addition to the Department of Defense’s "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms."

Tucked between "clearing operation" and "close air support" in the 259-page reference tome, climate change is defined as "variations in average weather conditions that persist over multiple decades or longer that encompass increases and decreases in temperature, shifts in precipitation, and changing risk of certain types of severe weather events."

The military dictionary serves as the "primary terminology source" for DOD officials when preparing any written documents, including papers related to policy, strategy, doctrine and planning.


Aides for the Joint Chiefs of Staff update the dictionary monthly. Climate change was the only new term included in the February edition.

The update follows a Pentagon directive in January pushing 15 DOD agencies to take climate change into account, consider its effects when developing plans and implement procedures (E&ENews PM, Jan. 19).

Francesco Femia, director of the Center for Climate & Security, said the addition is important because DOD only adds "noncontroversial" terms to its dictionary.

"This is an acknowledgement that climate change is a key issue and that there is no internal pushback on it," he said.

While climate change has remained a political flashpoint in Congress, the Pentagon has been attuned to the issue for more than a decade, noting as early as 2003 that climate change could exacerbate armed conflicts globally.

Defining climate change now, Femia said, underscores the department’s commitment to understanding the problem and preparing for its impacts.

Femia also said he believes the definition was purposely kept broad, adding, "The actual definition is much less important than just the fact that it is in there."

He said, "It sounds like a small, archaic thing, but it is significant."