For National Security, Climate Change Must Be Tackled
Jon Gensler’s recent post on the extreme weather in Colorado and the mid-Atlantic underlines the urgency for leadership to reverse climate change and its future impacts on national security.
Last week I moderated a Climate and Energy Funders Group forum for current or prospective funders on “The Security Angle on Climate and Clean Energy.” Christine Sherry shared what she had learned from scanning and mapping this field of work for the Planet Heritage Foundation.
Francesco Femia described his work with Caitlin Werrellat the Center for Climate and Security on near-term Executive Branch policy priorities. Kai Anderson briefed the major findings from a 6-month Cassidy & Associates study on the role of the Department of Defense in supporting innovation and deployment of renewable energy technologies.
So what does the big picture look like for those relatively new to the idea of climate change as a security issue? Here are five general points that I can circle back to as developments and reader interest demand:
1. Despite Congressional gridlock, the reality, related risks, and potential threat multipliers of climate change are already well-documented by a broad spectrum of the national intelligence and security community. This analysis finds that the growing intensity of droughts, floods, storms, forest fires, and rising sea levels associated with climate change will exacerbate direct threats to U.S. territory, U.S. defense installations abroad, and regions of vital strategic interest to the country. The evolving consensus and response can be seen in National Intelligence Assessments, Worldwide Threat Assessments of the Director of National Intelligence (2009-11), the Quadrennial Defense Review (2010), the U.S. Navy Climate Change Road Map (2010), a Defense Science Board Task Force Report (2011), and a recent Intelligence Community Assessment of water security (2012).
2. The growing body of work inside the government has been enhanced by a broad array of analysts outside government, notably at the Center for Naval Analyses, Operation Free, the Center for a New American Security, E3G, as well as the Center for Climate and Security mentioned above.
3. The Department of Defense has been well ahead of most politicians in recognizing that climate change will have “a dramatic impact on national security”. The engaged leadership includes the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta himself, who uttered these words recently while noting that among other impacts, from “rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief”.
4. Meanwhile, the climate change denial community has proven again that even matters of national security are secondary to profiting from fossil fuel. The same forces that have undermined climate science and blocked national action on climate policy are now politicizing the military’s attempt to safeguard its own operations by ramping up renewable energy sourcing.
5. Fortunately, those responsible for national defense from all threats—be they imminent strikes or gathering storms—refuse to buckle to short-term political obstructionism. Secretary of Defense Panetta, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and professional military officers down the line know that a warming global climate and extreme weather will impact national interests and defense operations whether Congress or the presidential candidates want to acknowledge the climate crisis or not.
Many policy experts that I have talked to believe that responsive climate security policies can still be advanced before Election Day and beyond. Stay tuned for more on this evolving agenda. In the long run, this work will benefit from greater awareness and discussion of the security risks from climate change.
But those in the know can’t rely on government insiders to communicate the issues when they are keeping a low profile to avoid political attack. Did you know, for instance, that our intelligence leaders created a CIA Center on Climate Change and National Security? It has already come under attack and needs defending if national leaders are to get the integrated analysis they need to deal with a changing climate and all the attendant risks.
Lukas Haynes is a board member of the Truman National Security Institute.