Sea level rise impacting naval bases. Climate change altering natural disaster response. Drought influenced by climate change in the Middle East and Africa leading to conflicts over food and water — as in, for instance, Syria.
The military understands the realities of climate change and the negative impacts of heavy dependence on fossil fuels.
The U.S. House does not.
With a mostly party-line vote on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) that seeks to prevent the Department of Defense from using funding to address the national security impacts of climate change.
“You can’t change facts by ignoring them,” said Mike Breen, Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project, and leader of the clean energy campaign, Operation Free. “This is like trying to lose 20 pounds by smashing your bathroom scale.”
The full text of McKinley’s amendment reads:
None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order
In other words, the House just tried to write climate denial into the Defense Department’s budget. “The McKinley amendment would require the Defense Department to assume that the cost of carbon pollution is zero,” Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) said in a letter to their colleagues before the vote. “That’s science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”
The amendment forces the Defense Department to ignore the findings and recommendations of the National Climate Assessment and the IPCC’s latest climate assessment, specifically with regard to the national security impacts of climate change. It would also do the same for the Social Cost of Carbon, which provides a framework for rulemakers to take into account the societal, security, and economic costs associated with emitting more carbon dioxide.
If the Pentagon cannot use its funding to implement the recommendations from the NCA and the IPCC reports, the specific impacts on DoD would be vague — and troublesome — because the reports are crystal clear.
Earlier this month with the release of the National Climate Assessment, 300 leading climate scientists and experts told Americans in no uncertain terms that time is running out to confront the dangerous impacts of climate change.
This week, 16 military experts agreed, telling Americans in a report that climate change is already threatening national security and the economy. The CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board authored the report, titled “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change.”
The experts that authored the report have well over 500 years of combined military experience (580, according to a Climate Progress tally).
Military expertise like this hasn’t stopped gadflies in the Senate from trying to dismiss the report. “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer,” said Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). “I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.”
Despite criticism like this from the Senator from Oklahoma, many in the military understand the very real security threats posed by climate change, and have been taking action to address it. This isn’t idle talk. The steps the Department of Defense has been taking to cut its reliance on carbon-heavy fuels, however, are not just to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Vice Admiral Lee Gunn (Ret.), and president of CNA Corporation’s Institute for Public Research, said “the American military, the single largest user of oil in the U.S., has recently begun transitioning to renewable and more efficient energy to improve its operational effectiveness and flexibility, with the added benefit of beginning to reduce its fossil fuel dependence and mitigate climate change.”
“Civilian and uniformed leaders of our military know it is increasingly risky to depend on a single fuel source; these leaders are diversifying the military’s sources of power to make our bases more resilient and our forces more effective,” said Vice Admiral Gunn.
The Defense Department is beginning to take action. It recently started work on its largest solar project to date, and has been making progress on its “Net Zero” energy initiative. The goal? For bases to produce as much energy as they consume, and for forward combat operations to not have to rely on oil-heavy supply lines.
The McKinley amendment was added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which later passed, 325-98. Only three Republicans (Garrett, Gibson, LoBiondo) voted against the amendment, and four Democrats (Barrow, Cuellar, McIntyre, Rahall) voted for it.
The Senate held first markup of their version of the bill on Wednesday. The NDAA sets out the budget for the Department of Defense, and details the expenditures it can make, though this is different than the budget that actually awards the appropriations. That will happen later this year.
The NDAA is one of the few pieces of legislation that actually work close to normal — the House passes its version, and the Senate passes its version. It remains to be seen if the Senate will take up and pass a similar amendment, but even if it does not, the final decision will come during conference. The two chambers go to conference to iron out the differences before final passage and the president’s signature.