by Anne Polansky
Conservative Republican Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, known internationally for his denialist viewpoint on climate change, and nationally for being a defense hawk, may soon be faced with the problem that his stubborn stance on the former conflicts with his ability to credibly pull off the latter.
When he returns for the 113th Session of Congress in January, Sen. Inhofe will give up his role as Ranking Minority Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee (forced by Senate rule) and take up the same role on the Senate Armed Services Committee, replacing Sen. John McCain. Though he’s served on this Committee since 2009, his new position will give him more power and responsibility; he’ll be leading the Republican members and working alongside Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) to oversee, direct, and authorize key military programs in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. He’s looking forward to it: “My focus on the committee will be on military readiness, acquisition reform, and preventing the potential hollowing out of our forces,” he’s said in the press.
Let’s talk about military readiness, through the lens of a new analysis conducted by the National Academy Sciences at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency. Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis is a thoughtful 218-page brief that makes the case that the military should boost its overall readiness for, and understanding of, the threats that a disrupted global climate could pose to US national security. It builds on and verifies previous studies with similar conclusions, and elaborates on the destabilizing effects of restricted access to, or prolonged shortages of, essential resources, such as arable land and potable water. Competent staffers should place this report on Senator Inhofe’s must-read list for the winter recess.
On Climate Progress and elsewhere, much ink is dedicated to the nonsensical mutterings and obstructionist shenanigans of Sen. Inhofe on the topic of global warming and climate change. As Chair of Environment and Public Works from 2003-2007 and Ranking Minority Member under the chairmanship of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) since 2007 when Democrats regained control of the Senate, Jim Inhofe has made every attempt to quash meaningful legislative proposals to cut carbon and deal with climate impacts.
He’s taken every opportunity to spout off about how climate change is one of the “biggest hoaxes ever played” on the American people (and even published a book about it); how NASA scientist James Hansen is not a real scientist and is not to be believed (but that his own cherry-picked but poorly credentialed scientists are); and how anthropogenic global warming is impossible anyway since, well, “God is still up there” and it’s “outrageous” and arrogant to believe human beings are “able to change what He is doing in the climate.” Check, check, and, uh, check.
In early 2008, soon after the Democrats had retaken the Senate and Sen. Barbara Boxer had taken back the gavel, she invited former V.P. Al Gore to testify on climate change, and brought a full hearing room to rare applause when she skillfully intercepted another typical Inhofe filibuster by reminding her colleague that, indeed, “elections have consequences” and she was now enforcing the rules. (Translation, he should shut up now.) Many had high hopes that the Congress would finally take on and pass serious carbon-cutting provisions, but it was not to be. While the demise of the 2009 House-passed comprehensive climate change “Waxman-Markey” bill (named the American Clean Energy and Security Act) in the Senate can’t be blamed just on Inhofe, he incessantly urged his colleagues to defeat the bill and repeated his mantra that a cap-and-trade bill will never pass into law in the US.
In a rare appearance earlier this year on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show, he admitted: “I was actually on your side of this issue when I was chairing that committee and I first heard about this. I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.” Oops. The truth, outed.
But from what I read in the CIA-requested National Academy of Sciences report, drawn from a panel of top experts, higher-ups in our military forces are worried about the costs of failing to deal squarely with a climate-change-disrupted world:
Given the available scientific knowledge of the climate system, it is prudent for security analysts to expect climate surprises in the coming decade, including unexpected and potentially disruptive single events as well as conjunctions of events occurring simultaneously or in sequence, and for them to become progressively more serious and more frequent thereafter, most likely at an accelerating rate. The climate surprises may affect particular regions or globally integrated systems, such as grain markets, that provide for human well-being.
In parallel work, serious geopolitical analysis of perturbations in grain markets has been conducted by Dr. Peter Gleick and others who conclude: “International tensions and conflict may be provoked by changes in the productivity of major grain importers, by the demand for grain on the international market, and by the ability of present grain suppliers to continue to generate surpluses.” Or, in fifth grade lingo: people fight over food. It’s a known fact.
Not only are there likely to be “surprises,” says the NAS report, but there could be complex chain-reactions in which climate change plays a key role:
The paths envisioned from climate events to specific security consequences are often complicated. For example, tensions could increase over access to increasingly scarce resources, and that escalation, especially if it led to overt conflict, could in turn further limit access to resources so that people who had not previously been affected would now face shortages. Some scenarios suggest that diminished national capacity or outright state failure would create increasing opportunities for extremism or terrorism.
That’s right: climate-induced hardships — prolonged droughts, floods, heat waves, ocean surges, coastal inundation, severe storms, and other extreme weather — may help create instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and this instability could lead to more terrorism. What could this mean in real terms – i.e., the need for US military action? Climate change-driven crises could lead to things like internal instability, international conflicts, and the need to provide humanitarian assistance or, in some cases, military force to protect vital energy, economic or other interests. Yup, more troops deployed. Bigger defense budget needed.
Last summer, Inhofe filed a bill that eliminates civilian, domestic federal funding for all climate-change research and activities. But he has also asserted that, come next session, one of his main goals will be to protect the Pentagon budget. The armed forces appear to be on an entirely different trajectory from zeroing out climate change: they’re boosting their own intelligence on global climate disruption and gearing up for the potential threats to security of “weird weather.”
This sort of thinking isn’t new; it’s been going on for a while. Five years ago, eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals prepared a report issued by the CNA introducing the notion that climate change can easily act as a “threat multiplier” in complex socio-geo-political-ecological systems. The authors are people Sen. Inhofe regards as authority figures: they are the people who have protected us, who need adequate funding, who need support from the American people so they can do their jobs.
Chairman Levin himself has demonstrated concern for deleterious climate change impacts on military operations and facilities. He has a whole page dedicated to “Climate Change” on his official Senate website and openly declares: “There is a strong scientific consensus that the earth is warming and that human activities are a significant contributor to that change, and I support strong steps to arrest climate change and the harm it causes.” One could not be more clear. Through the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act, Sen. Levin has called on the Defense Science Board to report on responses to recommendations made in an October 2011 DSB report, Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security, in which the Board criticizes the CIA for its handling of data and information regarding climate change, and urges the CIA to step outside its traditional culture of secrecy and begin sharing the intelligence it has been gathering on climate change. (However – this just in – the CIA has closed its Center for Climate Change and National Security created in 2009; it was the object of much controversy and criticism. The CIA says it will continue with analysis of the national security implications of climate change, only under other auspices.)
Has Sen. Inhofe been listening to this drumbeat of climate messages coming from his beloved defense community? So far, there’s no evidence that he has. (Note to Inhofe’s chief of staff: add CNA’s 2007 report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, to the recess reading list.)
It’s not just words coming from the defense community, it’s decisive action as well. For years, the Navy’s department of Energy, Environment and Climate Change has been building up a Green Fleet and at its Naval Energy Forum 2012 in October, SECNAV gathered with industry leaders to explore “The Art of the Long View,” highlighting “the importance of using energy in a judicious manner to enhance combat capability today and ensure availability of resources for future generations.” Renewable energy, being more reliable over the longer term, is high on the list of considerations: for example, Navy SEALS recently got a couple million dollars worth of solar cells to power up equipment, purify water, and refrigerate food and medicine. On the impacts side of the equation, the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change (TFCC) is conducting ongoing assessments of potential sea level rise impacts on its strategic installations worldwide. (Hint: a lot of them are coastal.)
In 2008 the US Air Force called for an Apollo-style response to climate change, and the US Army has been plodding away at establishing 25 Net Zero energy/waste/water installations around the world by 2030. On the home front, the US Army Corps of Engineers is concerned that climate change has the potential to affect almost all its missions and has a web page replete with practical information on the topic.
And, like it or not, our military is being heavily leaned on to help with disaster assistance: it means they’ve got to drop what they’re doing and run to disaster scenes like the ones immediately following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, then Irene, and now Sandy. Nearly 4,000 National Guard soldiers were dispatched to New York City right away to provide supplies, search and rescue, and maintain peace; and as of Thanksgiving Day, over 1100 were still involved full time in the recovery effort, 900 of them in NYC.
It is hard to know precisely what is in Jim Inhofe’s mind, but he is fond of quoting a two-line bible verse (Genesis 8:22) to explain his world view: “As long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” The verse is certainly simpler to understand and perhaps easier to swallow than the tens of thousands of pages carefully assembled by thousands of credentialed scientists from around the world participating in the IPCC, or even any of the reports issued by our own US Global Change Research Program. “No, thank you,” he says to science, and sticks with his comfy mindset and associated talking points that have worked well for him over the years — especially at re-election time when the titans of the fossil fuel industries (the Kochs, the Murrays, the Devons, et al) fill his campaign coffers with oil money and coal gold. Never mind that his own state of Oklahoma is on a collision course with a climate-induced dust bowl.
He’s a stubborn one, that’s for sure. Still, I find myself imagining (almost fantasizing) this scenario: How will Jim Inhofe — three-term US Senator, 78 years old, father and grandfather to 20, frequent visitor of military bases and middle-eastern war zones, proud defense hawk — respond when some square-shouldered, baritone-voiced, heavily decorated military officer looks him in straight in the eye and asks: “Now, what is this about a hoax?”
To the extent that Hurricane Sandy was souped up by greenhouse-gas-steroids, in an ironic twist, climate change itself delayed the release date of the report by several days, because briefings for the CIA sponsors of the study were scheduled to occur on October 30, the day that Sandy shut down the federal government. According to coverage in HuffPo, John D. Steinbruner, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and the chair of the 14-member panel of experts who conducted the NAS analysis, explained in an email message that CIA sponsors must be briefed on the report before it is publicly released. And climate-steroid-Sandy had shut down Washington.
Anne Polansky of Takoma Park, Maryland is a consultant and writer specializing in public policies to deal with climate change and to advance sustainable energy options in US energy markets. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.