President-elect Donald Trump has spent the weeks following the election staffing up his administration, and among his chosen national security advisers, a theme is emerging: None of them seem to think climate change, which the Department of Defense has called a “threat multiplier,” is an issue of national security.
The newest member of Trump’s national security team is Fox News analyst K.T. McFarland, recently tapped to be deputy national security adviser. And like Trump’s earlier national security picks — National Security Advisor Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and CIA Director Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) — McFarland dismisses the idea that climate change constitutes a threat to national security.
In 2015, McFarland criticized President Obama’s decision to attend the U.N. climate conference in Paris just months after terror attacks rocked the city. Obama called his attendance “a powerful rebuke” to the attacks.
“President Obama thinks that climate change is the greatest strategic and geological and existential threat to our future,” McFarland said on Fox News following Obama’s remarks. “Here we are, and the irony. If it were not so tragic, it would be funny. Here we have ISIS, who are attacking with suicide vests and Kalashnikovs and potentially chemical weapons in the French water supply. What are we doing? We’re going to fight ISIS. We’re going to have windmills, we’re going to have solar panels. We’re going to show them.”
McFarland continued: “All it does is it gives encouragement to the terrorists who feel that they have been selected and chosen by Allah to establish the caliphate and kill everybody who disagrees with them. They now look at this and they are laughing.”
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McFarland’s claims — as well as those of Trump’s other national security advisers, who also deny the link between climate change and national security — run counter to both official Department of Defense literature and the opinion of many within the national security community.
In 2015, the Department of Defense released a report looking at how climate change might impact United States’ security operations at home and abroad, concluding “climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.”
In September of this year, a coalition of 25 retired military experts, some of whom had served in administrations from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, released a report warning that climate change has the potential to severely impact U.S. military readiness, and could increase international conflict and mass migration. A 2013 study from Princeton University found that global warming could lead to a 50 percent increase in conflicts in some parts of the world by 2050.
Climate change is a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate terrorism, conflict, and disease by creating greater strain on crucial resources, like arable land or access to water. Already, there is some academic work that connects the Syrian Civil War to climate change, arguing that a major drought — spurred by climate change — crippled agriculture and created massive food shortages, which in turn forced migration into cities and tension over water resources.
In February, the Pentagon ordered commanders to take climate change into account when creating plans and testing operations. But Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to allow such a program — in June, the House voted to block the Defense Department from using funds to evaluate how climate change might affect their operations. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), said the bill was intended to prevent defense workers from becoming distracted by “a radical climate change agenda.” The bill later died in the Senate.
For over a decade, through Republican and Democratic presidencies, the Department of Defense has remained steadfast in its warnings about the dangers of climate change and national security. But with Trump loading his future administration with national security advisers who deny the security risks of climate change, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the agency’s legacy of climate foresight could be in jeopardy.