Conscripting Climate: Environmental Risk and Defensive Urbanism

Conscripting Climate: Environmental Risk and Defensive Urbanism was a Spring 2017 symposium organized by doctoral candidates Hannah Teicher and Aria Finkelstein. The symposium fostered a debate about the risks and opportunities in the defense establishment contributing to urban mitigation and adaptation. While this question may be answered in regard to current conditions, the organizers also urged participants to recall the mixed lessons gleaned from the historical intersection of defense and territorial planning, ranging from Haussmann’s boulevards to the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The keynote speech from Simin Davoudi on “the securitization of nature” also contributed to establishing a critical perspective toward the promises and pitfalls of defense planning.

Scientists, scholars, activists, the media and the general public increasingly recognize the urgent global risk of unpredictable climate change. Yet, in the U.S., the issue remains hotly debated, leading to intransigence at multiple levels of government. In this vacuum, cities have attempted to take the lead in adaptation planning, yet they often lack capacity. At the same time, national security institutions have been attending to climate change as a “threat multiplier” in the global and domestic arenas. In several cases, national security interests and urban interests are converging, presenting the opportunity for stakeholders working across multiple levels of government to produce and implement significant adaptation plans. In some cases, this institutional coordination has been formalized in resilience pilot projects, while in others, defense stakeholders provide informal input to regional planning processes. 

The first panel addressed “framing climate security” and engaged in a robust debate about the potential for democratic inclusion under such a lens. While coming from perspectives both within and far outside of the national security establishment, panelists eventually agreed that inclusion and addressing the “democratic deficit” in the country would be essential to successful adaptation. In addition, they reached consensus that grassroots organizing would be a necessary complement to technocratic planning efforts.

The second panel addressed “the practice of climate security,” highlighting the complexities of current urban/defense relationships in a context where only a miniscule percentage of Americans are involved in the military. They agreed that adaptation efforts need to be framed to bolster the military’s central mission while also including more community outreach. 

These debates will be expanded on in the forthcoming volume of Projections.


Keynote: Climate Change and the Securitization of Nature
Simin Davoudi
Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Newcastle University

Panel 1: Framing Climate Security
John E. Morton
Former Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change,
National Security Council

James Goudreau
CAPT, SC, USN (Ret) and Former Acting Deputy
Asst Secretary of the Navy for Energy 

James P. Allen
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and
University of Illinois, Department of Urban and Regional Planning 

Damian White
Professor of History, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences, RISD

Panel 2: The Practice of Climate Security
Paul Holland
Senior Analyst, Marstel-Day

Sarah E. Light
Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School

Cate Fox-Lent
Research Civil Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Sharon Rooney
Chief Planner, Cape Cod Commission