World leaders: You and I have a rendezvous with destiny
By Edward Owen-Burge | August 26, 2021
Edward Owen-Burge is a former military intelligence officer, having served ten years in the British Army. As well as completing two tours of Afghanistan and multiple deployments across Africa, he worked at the Ministry of Defence analysing and briefing senior commanders on strategic threats to the UK and its allies.
Here is his contribution to the Our World in Your Hands project.
Dear world leaders,
In 2016, my unit was visited by the defence ministers at the time. As we all crowded into the main atrium to receive their address, our Chief of Staff collected strips of paper with questions to be read out and answered.
“What’s this?” he said, reading my question. “What’s this got to do with defence?” My question was simple.
“What is your plan to tackle the threat of climate change?”
I had specifically used the word threat. Not just because that is how climate change and biodiversity loss are described, but because that word speaks to us in the military and to all those responsible for the safety and security of our respective nations.
It’s the very reason we have a military: to identify and mitigate threats.
In fact, it is our entire purpose. In a working week, we would cover all manner of threats to our way of life: state threats, terrorist threats, cyber threats, insider threats…but never the greatest threat ever faced.
Although some militaries have finally grasped the link between environmental disaster and their nation’s security, why are they still so slow to act?
Imagine that there was an enemy country out there somewhere which could threaten us with catastrophic flooding of our cities and devastating wildfires across our countryside. Or kill thousands of people through sudden heat or shocking cold, and cripple our food supply by eradicating our pollinators and destroying our vital topsoil.
And imagine if this enemy state could not only do these things to us right now, but could increase the ferocity and longevity of their attacks every single year. A bombardment without end, constantly building momentum over the coming years and decades.
There would only be one type of response to such a threat. Total war.
As a nation, we would be on an instant war footing where every resource, person, technology, and financial mechanism would be directed towards tackling this threat and securing our future. We would do it willingly and determinedly, like we did against fascism and tyranny not so long ago.
We would do it, not just to protect our sovereignty or way of life, but for our future survival.
We would do it because we would not see it as our choice, but as our duty.
So, my question today is not “what is your plan to tackle the threat of climate change?” like it was a few years ago. But more urgently, “why are we not on a war footing to ensure our survival?”
To the heads of the Armed Forces who are sworn to protect us; why are you not advising your heads of state to take the necessary defensive action needed to keep us safe?
Politicians and Generals of today, you are enjoying your lobster and steaks in Paris while the columns of tanks snake their way through the forests of Alsace. We are all fleeing to the beaches of Dunkirk in a global retreat because we are overwhelmed and outmatched by the threat bearing down on us. Only this time there will be no boats to carry us to safety, because there is nowhere to retreat to.
Now let’s set the record straight. The solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss exist, and they exist right this very second. As a global community we have the technology, finances and imagination to win the day. The only thing that is missing is the will. The will to step forward and do what needs to be done. You may feel it is difficult, but this is no time for cowardice.
Militaries tend to be quite adept at turning failure into romantic success. Rorke’s Drift, Flanders, Dunkirk and Vietnam, to name a few. But nostalgia and stories won’t cover up the catastrophe on our doorstep. We are in the greatest fight of our lives and yet many of you are choosing annihilation. You are giving up the war for the sake of a few irrelevant battles.
Sirs and Ma’ams. If you won’t answer me then please, at least listen to the words of Ronald Regan with the same understanding and weight of knowledge with which he said when fighting the Cold War and facing the nuclear threat of the 1980’s.
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”