Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have argued that climate change is a driver of conflict of all kinds, including the civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS and the refugee crisis engulfing Europe. Now they’re being joined by Prince Charles, in an interview to air on Monday.
“Some of us were saying 20-something years ago that if we didn’t tackle these issues, you would see ever greater conflict over scarce resources and ever greater difficulties over drought, and the accumulating effect of climate change which means that people have to move,” said Charles, a former member of the Royal Navy and Air Force.
Conservatives and Republican commentators have mocked this position—”absurd,” ”embarrassing,” and “brazenly silly” are typical responses—but the link between climate change, political instability, war and terrorism is well known and widely accepted by the U.S. government, including the highest ranks of the US military.
The heir to the British throne made his remarks in an interview with Sky News which occurred before the November 13 terror attacks in Paris. The comments come a week before the prince is scheduled to deliver a keynote address in Paris, the site of a historic United Nations summit on climate change. But here in the U.S., Democratic presidential candidates O’Malley and Sanders have made similar claims.
Back in July, O’Malley told Bloomberg television: “One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria, the rise of ISIS, was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis.”
And a day after the Paris attacks, Sanders, speaking at a Democratic debate in Iowa made much the same case: “Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism,” he argued.
A day later on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sanders doubled down: “When people migrate into cities and they don’t have jobs, there’s going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment, and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al-Qaida and ISIS are using right now.”
It’s not just political candidates. At a security-related conference in Alaska this summer, President Obama invoked “entire industries of people who can’t practice livelihoods, desperate refugees, political disruptions that could trigger conflicts around the world.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, has previously described climate change as “another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” And at the Alaska conference, he went even further. predicting a wave of new climate refugees forced to abandon homes in search of food or water.“You think migration is a challenge to Europe today because of extremism,” Kerry said, “wait until you see what happens when there’s an absence of water, an absence of food or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival.” He closed by comparing the scale of the threat to World War II, when “all of Europe was overrun by evil and civilization itself seemed to be in peril.”
It’s not just rhetoric. Kerry and Obama are echoing equally strong language from the upper echelons of the Pentagon.
“We’ve been having lunch table conversations about it for years,” Ray Kiess, the lead scientist of the Air Force’s office of combat climatology, told NBC News last year. “The only difference now is there’s a focus on it.”
Admiral Samuel Locklear of the Pacific Command has called climate change (and not, say, North Korea) his largest security concern. David Titley, who until recently was the oceanographer of the Navy, has compared the present moment to Sept. 10, 2001, or the years before World War One. For the Army’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Wendell King, climate change is “a war that lasts 100 years.”
The specter of a warmer, more turbulent Earth also pervades the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon’s official outline of global priorities. Yes, it’s impossible to blame any given conflict on the weather, the planners concede. But while climate change doesn’t kidnap a schoolgirl or steal a nuclear weapon, it does set the stage for such acts, according to the QDR.
“The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world,” according to the Pentagon’s best minds. “These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”