Trump allies plan to root out climate science at ‘woke’ Pentagon

By Scott Waldman | 03/15/2024 06:45 AM EDT

A blueprint for a second Trump term would put the White House in charge of the National Defense Strategy, rather than the Defense Department.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally March 9 in Rome, Georgia. Mike Stewart/AP

Donald Trump may prevent the U.S. military from considering climate science when planning for national security threats if the former president wins a second term in November.

Dozens of conservative groups lay out a plan for Trump to remove climate research from military planning in Project 2025, a blueprint for a Republican administration spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation. They argue the Department of Defense has been too focused on climate and “has emphasized leftist politics over military readiness.”

The proposal, written by a former top Trump official who would likely join a second administration, would change the way the military is preparing to deal with deadly heat waves, wildfires and flooding. It could also blind the country and its fighting forces to national security risks, said Sherri Goodman, who was deputy undersecretary of Defense for environmental security in the Clinton administration.


“We might not anticipate how our adversaries are also thinking about climate change and might even try to use it to their own advantage,” said Goodman, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Polar Institute and Environmental Change and Security Program. “So it’s important for us to not stick our head in the sand when it comes to climate risks, but to understand how they’re shaping the battlefield.”

A top target in the Project 2025 proposal is the National Defense Strategy, which the military uses to plan for potential threats to American security, including those brought on by climate change.

For years, the Pentagon has treated climate change as a threat multiplier that can inflame conflicts across the world and threaten U.S. national security. Military officials have also used climate research to pinpoint areas of the world likely to experience political destabilization due to drought or flooding or other consequences of a warming world.

The proposal would ensure that the National Defense Strategy is no longer directed by the Defense Department but instead fully under the purview of political appointees in the White House and its National Security Council.

It would direct the NSC to “rigorously review” staff with an eye toward minimizing any positions that focus on “climate change, critical race theory, manufactured extremism, and other polarizing policies that weaken our armed forces and discourage our nation’s finest men and women from enlisting to serve in defense of our liberty.”

The author of that chapter is Russ Vought, Trump’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget. Vought, who is now president of the Center for Renewing America, a pro-Trump think tank, couldn’t be reached for comment by E&E News. He is expected to have a role in the next administration if Trump wins against President Joe Biden in the November election.

Trump campaign officials declined to comment on specifics but have said that Project 2025 just contains “recommendations” and that Trump would articulate his own policy. Heritage officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The ideas in Project 2025 draw from a wide segment of the conservative movement and should be taken as the institutionalism of Trumpism, said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and author of “Understanding Trump.”

“Trump is going to make very big directional changes from the current mess, and a lot of these people are going to try to fill in the painting with specific ideas and proposals,” Gingrich said. “It’s a little bit like a smorgasbord, he is going to pick and choose.”

Climate as a security threat

The most recentNational Defense Strategy, released in 2022, found that climate change could bring significant threats to political stability in regions across the world. Climate science is woven throughout the document, informing sections on political destabilization, national security, and resilience and recovery.

“Insecurity and instability related to climate change may tax governance capacity in some countries while heightening tensions between others, risking new armed conflicts and increasing demands for stabilization activities,” the document states.

The strategy has long been resistant to partisan whims. During Trump’s first term, senior Defense officials used climate science to prepare for threats and vulnerabilities, with his secretary of Defense, James Mattis, calling climate change “a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government response.”

Under Mattis, the military prepared for the opening of new Arctic routes due to thawing ice. Today, the U.S. military is planning to secure U.S. borders in the warming Arctic, where Russia and China are already exploiting a reduction in sea ice.

But Project 2025 refers to the Pentagon as “a deeply troubled institution” because it is too “woke.”

The proposal would block the Army from incorporating climate science into its operations, calling the branch’s use of such research part of a “pervasive politically driven top-down focus on progressive social policies that emphasize matters like so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion and climate change, often to the detriment of the Army’s core warfighting mission.”

Project 2025 would also roll back efforts to cut the carbon footprint of the military, one of the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels. While such efficiency efforts cut costs, Project 2025 characterizes such work as a waste that shifts the military away from its essential mission.

Despite Project 2025’s strong language, it remains to be seen if the Department of Defense will want to “cede authority to unconfirmed staffers in the White House,” said John Conger, emeritus director of the Center for Climate and Security and former deputy undersecretary for Defense.

Conger said the Department of Defense was active on climate policy during Trump’s first term, releasing an adaptation guide for installations, Arctic strategies for each branch of the armed services and a climate change directive for the Army. Billions of dollars was spent rebuilding the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, making it more climate resilient.

“I think unless you order them not to do so, the military is going to prioritize mission assurance and resilience and indications and warnings including weather impacts,” Conger said, adding, “I don’t expect the Trump administration to declare the world is flat and order the military to presume it is so.”

But congressional climate hawks say the Project 2025 proposals show that a second Trump term would be more beholden to the fossil fuel industry than the first.

“If you’re going to have a dark force in the Oval Office that’s basically a puppet of the fossil fuel world and their liaison with cultural conservatives to create a mass-based movement — if you’re going to have that, you don’t want them to have a highly prepared plan on how to move fast and effectively, you’d rather them move slow,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), vice chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, called Project 2025 “anti-American” in its focus on appointing loyalists to government positions so they can weaken public health protections and support the fossil fuel industry.

“The idea that you would look at the United States government and say we want to take a government that largely depends on public servants who are committed to the public welfare and politicize all those positions, you really have to hate effective U.S. governance to think that that’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s horrible.”