DOES CLIMATE CHANGE THREATEN NATIONAL SECURITY?
Recalling a recent Congressional visit to the Pacific, North Shore Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) described a conversation he had with an American commander at an Alaskan air base. Unprompted, the commander brought up the serious threat he sees from climate change. According to Congressman Moulton, the commander said, “It doesn’t matter that some people are denying this is happening. It is happening, and I have to deal with the national security threat that climate change poses to our nation.”
It may seem odd hearing this from a member of the U.S. military, whose daily focus includes threats posed by North Korean missiles and the Russian Navy, but on closer inspection it makes a lot of sense. Climate change is a truly global phenomenon with the potential to impact not only the facilities and supply lines of the U.S. military, but the future challenges it will face. This is a key reason that the military, lawmakers, and local advocates need to be proactive in stopping climate change – to reduce its threat to national security.
The idea that climate change and national security are linked is not isolated to one commander. Rather it has been entrenched in military thinking for decades. Just take Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis, a decorated former Marine general, who during his confirmation hearing mentioned the challenge of climate change, and has been vocal about the risks posed by sea level rise to U.S. military installations.
Sea level rise has already exacerbated coastal flooding, erosion and inundation on a dozen bases across the Pacific and along the west coast, severely hampering operational ability. Additionally, the Center for Climate & Security notes an increased risk to oceanic and overland supply chains caused by climate change. These problems will only get worse as time go on.
Aside from military infrastructure and logistics, climate change will impact the amount and intensity of the conflicts the military is tasked with mitigating. According to The Age of Consequences, a contemporary documentary, “the consequences of climate change – waves of refugees, failed states, terrorism – will continue to grow in scale and frequency, with grave implications for peace and security in the 21st century.”
As natural resources become eviscerated by climate change, conflict-ridden areas will see existing threats worsen while previously peaceful regions will see new ones arise. This, Harvard security expert Juliette Kayyem says, is because countries generally go to war over scarce resources like water, food, and fuel. What’s more, a 4°C rise in global temperatures has the potential to submerge land currently home to 470 to 760 million people, causing mass inland migration and increased international migration.
These national security problems are happening as we speak. Forest fires have destroyed 18% of California military bases, melting sea ice has opened up new passages for the Russian navy in the Arctic, and shifts in global temperatures are causing droughts in high conflict areas like the Middle East. These require the US military to react to the practical consequences of climate change today.
Stakeholders must be proactive, not just reactive, in fighting climate change if its risk to national security is to be reduced. In this sense everyone plays a role. First, as the single largest consumer of fuel in the world, the U.S. military must develop and implement less carbon-intensive methods of moving troops and equipment across the globe.
Second, national policymakers must be international champions of climate action, both in Congress and especially in the executive branch, and should not abdicate American responsibility.
Finally, citizens, advocates, state lawmakers, and local businesses must use their power to prevent climate change’s full potential from being realized. This can be done by curbing current and future carbon emissions by putting a price on carbon and by transitioning towards renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy.
Reducing the security risks associated with climate change can not be achieved by one group or institution. It requires a holistic and proactive approach by incorporating all levels of government and the private sector. If your business is ready to take action on climate change, join Climate Action Business Association today.
Interested in learning more about climate change and national security? There will be a screening of The Age of Consequences in Framingham, Massachusetts on July 6th. Click here for more details.
About the author: Tim is an economics and politics student at Stonehill College. This past year he had the opportunity to study at Oxford University, exploring global governance, human rights law, and int’l economics. As a senior, Tim will serve as student-body president and continue to fight for sustainable initiatives such as fossil fuel divestment and expanding the college’s solar farm. He has interned at the State House and serves on the board of his local civic association. Tim enjoys reading The Economist, listening to podcasts, and exploring state parks in his free time.