Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Commander-in-Chief and the leaders of the world’s most powerful military force began to think of climate change as an issue vital to national security?
Ponder the implications: Investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, distributed generation and zero-carbon buildings might become a critical part of our national defense budgets. Solar collectors would become as important as M-16 rifles; plug-in hybrids as vital as M-1 tanks. Our arsenal would include weapons of mass mitigation.
If that seems far-fetched, consider what’s just happened in the defense and intelligence communities. Over the last two weeks, climate change has graduated officially from an environmental to a full-fledged national security issue. Now, any candidate who isn’t gung-ho about reversing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions should be considered soft on national defense.
In case you missed them, here is a recap of the latest developments. At the end of June, the National Intelligence Council completed the first-ever National Intelligence Assessment of climate change. Its contents are classified, but the chairman of the Council, Dr. Thomas Fingar, summarized key findings before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on June 25.
We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years…From a national security perspective, climate change has the potential to affect lives (for example, through food and water shortages, increased health problems including the spread of disease, and increased potential for conflict), property (for example through ground subsidence, flooding, coastal erosion and extreme weather events) and other security interests.
The United States depends on a smooth-functioning international system ensuring the flow of trade and market access to critical raw materials such as oil and gas, and security for its allies and partners. Climate change and climate change policies could affect all of these…
In addition, anticipated impacts to the Homeland — including possible increases in the severity of storms in the Gulf, increased demand for energy resources, disruptions in US and Arctic infrastructure and increases in immigration from resource-scarce regions of the world — are expected to be costly.
While the study was a first for the National Intelligence Council, it wasn’t the first by U.S. experts in national security and defense. As Climate Progess reported in the past, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security issued “The Age of Consequences” last November, concluding that the expected level of global warming will produce “heightened internal and cross-border tensions caused by large-scale migrations; conflict sparked by resource scarcity, particularly in the weak and failing states of Africa; increased disease proliferation, which will have economic consequences; and some geopolitical reordering as nations adjust to shifts in resources and prevalence of disease.”
Ten months earlier, the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), a private think-tank, assembled a prestigious and broadly experienced team of 11 retired flag officers (three and four-star Admirals and Generals) to evaluate the climate-security connection. Their conclusions — that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that deserves immediate attention — essentially are confirmed by the new NIA.
The day after Fingar’s testimony, Sherri Goodman of the CNA told Congress:
What are the potential security consequences of these destabilizing effects? Overall they increase the potential for failed states and the growth of terrorism; mass migrations will lead to greater regional and global tensions; and tension over resources, particularly water, are almost certain to escalate.
A significant number of Americans appear to appreciate this. On the same days that Fingar and Goodman were testifying on the Hill, Harris Interactive conducted a nationwide poll commissioned by the Presidential Climate Action Project. The poll found that:
- 63% of likely voters consider it important that the next president take strong action to address climate change soon after taking office.
- 41% of Americans believe that if strong action is not taken, our national security will be threatened by global instability.
Meantime across the Atlantic, Lord Nicholas Stern made news on June 25 by warning that the cost of preventing dangerous levels of atmospheric carbon concentrations (above 500 parts per million) has doubled in the past two years. In 2006, Stern estimated that nations needed to spend 1% of their GDP immediately to avert climate disaster. Stern now says that evidence shows climate change is happening more quickly than had been thought. He estimates that the necessary global investment today is “around 2% of GDP”.
Lest anyone think that 2% of GDP is too high a price, Goodman offered Congress a direct quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Commander of the U.S. Central Command:
We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today…or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it. That has to hit home.
These developments are important for the following reasons:
- Top security experts within the Bush Administration have confirmed that climate change has direct and indirect impacts on the issues of most concern to voters: terrorism, economic stability, health care, immigration and energy prices.
- Leading security experts have joined leading climate scientists in concluding that we need to act now to prevent not only the worst consequences of climate change, but also the most dangerous threats to our national security.
- The Pentagon has multiple reasons to “go green”, including independence from a vulnerable electric grid at home and less need to ship fossil fuels to the battlefield. The latest intelligence findings could spur it to go even greener. Green procurement at that scale could help shape the marketplace in favor of low- and now-carbon goods and services.
- Recognition at the highest levels of government that climate change and national security are interconnected should move adaptation and mitigation high on the list of national priorities for both the next President and Congress.
These conclusions from the nation’s intelligence community make clear that the do-nothing policies of the White House over these past eight years have been negligence of the worst kind: an abdication of the President’s responsibility to carry out the fundamental purposes of the U.S. Constitution, to “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Each incoming President must pick a few priorities that will receive his personal attention. For the next President, there can be no question that global climate change must be one of them.
– Bill B.