With drought baking one third of counties across the country, an historic wildfire that torched the arid landscape of Colorado, and record heat and violent storms that recently left millions without power on the East Coast, scientists and government officials in the U.S. are issuing stronger warnings about the influence of climate change on intensifying extreme weather.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a different worry: Electromagnetic pulses.
In a Washington Post op-ed published yesterday, Gingrich — who recently ran for the GOP presidential nomination — used the violent storms, blackout and heat wave to discuss his long-time concern for EMPs.
The introduction makes it seem like he might actually talk about climate change:
Callista and I live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, and, like many in the region, we lost power in the recent storms. The blackout, combined with a record heat wave, made homes nearly uninhabitable. The storm and heat were this region’s greater leveler: Rich or poor, urban or suburban, six-figure income or just barely getting by, we were all cast on the same strange shores.
But no. Gingrich instead pivots to an issue that experts at the Missile Defense Agency call “pretty theoretical.”
I write this now because of my concern for national security and our power grid, which are susceptible to doomsday-level damage if hit by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike or a major solar storm.
It is almost unthinkable, yet possible, that an enemy could detonate a nuclear weapon over the atmosphere over the continental United States, triggering an electromagnetic pulse. This would short-circuit our power grid, taking power offline for months, perhaps even years.
One scientist looking at the data on the recent heat wave says it’s “highly unlikely that the extremity of the heat during the past 13 months could have occurred without a warming climate.” That seems like something worth mentioning.
Instead, Gingrich attempts to focus our national attention to a problem that defense experts say they’re only mildly concerned about:
The Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that maintains an arsenal of ground-based interceptors ready to fly into space and smash enemy warheads, says that defeating such an attack would be as straightforward as any other defense of the continental United States.
“It doesn’t matter if the target is Chicago or 100 miles over Nebraska,” said Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman. “For the interceptor, it’s the same thing.” He called the potential damage from a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack “pretty theoretical.”
Compare that to what Defense Department says about climate change. In May, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared that “climate change has a dramatic impact on national security.”
“Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
Ironically, Gingrich calls for a national war-like effort to create “fortified bunkers for the national power grid.” But when asked about dealing with climate change — a direct, oncoming threat that the military establishment is planning extensively around — Gingrich said he thinks “there is no evidence that justifies a large government centralized response of any kind right now.”