Climate Change Threatens Our Security
As I write this, more than 1.8 million Americans are without power due to the havoc wrecked by last week’s “derecho” storm system across the mid-west and mid-Atlantic. At one point, more than a third of the population of West Virginia was without power, and largely remains so. But the toll of the tragedy – 13 dead across 700 miles of massive destruction – should not be set aside lightly. I have family and friends sitting across the region without power, in houses designed for AC in the summer heat, and sweltering in perhaps the worst June heat wave in living memory.
Meanwhile across the country, in my old Army home of Colorado Springs, the worst wild fire in the state’s history has destroyed the lives of hundreds of people and their homes, forced the evacuation of 35,000 (including some of the United States Air Force Academy). Firefighters have been battling to control the flames in heat consistently above 100F, certainly not making their jobs any easier. Thankfully, local businesses are helping out, and my old stomping ground of Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse and Pub has even been giving out food and drink to those battling to save people’s lives and property. All of this happened in the past two weeks.
Yet, despite the disasters we’re seeing this week, some refuse to acknowledge the devastating impact of climate change. We are changing our climate by burning up our vast yet limited supply of fossil fuels, impacting weather patterns that civilization relies upon for prosperity and safety alike. And amidst this, the CEO of ExxonMobil tossed his concerns for the worst of climate change into the wind (a hot, dry wind). “We’ll adapt,” he said without a hint of recognition of the cost of that adaptation.
Of course we will adapt. That is indeed the story of humanity over the 100,000 or so years we have existed as such. But at what cost? Who will pay for it? Who will lose out on the destruction that such adaptation always demands?
The US military knows a thing or two about adaptation. One of the mantras I had as a young platoon leader of both tanks and infantry mortarmen was that we would always “adapt and overcome” whatever was thrown at us. But first you had to know your surroundings, know your enemy, and do what you can to shape the battlefield. And a look around the country and world is pretty telling.
Much of our political leadership seems to be in disbelief that we likely have more of these storms in our future, that this is just the nascent beginning of the West’s wild fire season, or that the US military takes the potential effects of such extreme weather around the world very, very seriously.
Much of the brave and independent people of West Virginia will make it through this storm, but not all. And yet with a 96% reliance on coal-fired electricity, the leaders in that state aren’t on track to do anything about preventing a future filled with such climate induced tragedy. With the heat still spiking and hundreds of thousand without power, you’d think Governor Earl Ray Tomblin would have more to do than continue his unimaginative and lazy attacks on the EPA’s supposed War on Coal.
It’s not the “war on coal” that should be America’s concerns. It’s Governor’s war against tomorrow we should be up in arms about.
Jonathan Gensler is a Truman Security Fellow.