Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina dismissed the idea that climate change was a major security threat Sunday, a dismissal that ignores warnings from top security experts.
“It is delusional for President Obama and Hillary Clinton and anyone else to say that climate change is our near-term most severe security threat,” she told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. “It is ISIS, period, followed closely by Iran and perhaps Russia.”
Obama has spoken about the security threats posed by climate change before — in May, he said climate change “constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.” But Obama’s statements aren’t empty warnings — they’re backed up by military and security experts. Last year, the Pentagon released a report that called climate change a “threat multiplier” whose impacts have the ability to “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.”
“Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” the report reads. “Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained.”
In 2013, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III — then-commander of the U.S. Pacific Command — called climate change the greatest security threat to the Pacific region.
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue — even with China and India — the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.”
And though Fiorina is right in citing ISIS as a near-term security threat, a peer-reviewed study has identified drought as one of the drivers of conflict in Syria, concluding that “human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.” Of course, the drivers of conflict and the roots of terrorist groups like ISIS are varied and complex, but the study’s findings show that drought can’t be ignored in the current conflict.
“While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” the study’s lead author Colin Kelley said. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”
Fiorina has denied that she personally accepts the science that climate change is happening and is caused by humans. And on Sunday, she also said she didn’t think the Paris climate talks — which begin this week and which Obama has called a “powerful rebuke” to the terrorists that attacked Paris — were a worthwhile exercise.
“If you read the fine print of the science, what the scientists tell us, all those scientists who say climate change is real and manmade, they also tell us that a single nation acting alone will make no difference at all, that it would take a concerted global effort over 30 years costing trillions of dollars,” she said. “I think the likelihood is near zero. So no, I don’t think [the Paris climate conference] is very productive.
But the entire point of the Paris climate talks is to ensure that countries aren’t acting alone. The entire point is to bring countries around the world — the planet’s most heavily-emitting countries and the countries that contribute very little to climate change — to develop a global agreement to get the planet on a path towards limiting warming. And in talking about the costs of climate action, Fiorina doesn’t mention the cost of inaction — acting on climate, according to one study, would avoid more than $300 trillion in damages. And even without taking those damages into account, acting on climate change would actually be fairly inexpensive, as Joe Romm has explained before on Climate Progress.