In the most recent debate for the Democratic presidential candidates, CBS’s John Dickerson asked Bernie Sanders, “You said you want to rid the planet of ISIS. In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?”
The senator didn’t hesitate, “Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world – this is what the CIA says – they’re going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops ask you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”
None of this seemed particularly surprising, though apparently the exchange annoyed Republicans. The Hill reported this week:
Top Senate Republicans on Tuesday slammed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s weekend statement that climate change is contributing to global terrorism. […]“I get disappointed when people see momentum around an issue and try to attach an unrelated issue to it,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee, said. […] Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) the chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, agreed: “I would view that assertion as pretty absurd.”
Some GOP complaining about Sanders’ progressive views is inevitable, but the problem with these Republican complaints is that Sanders’ argument was rooted in fact.
The same afternoon as the Republican senators’ complaints, CIA Director John Brennan offered a rather candid assessment of the security landscape.
Across the globe, in both authoritarian and democratic societies, governments are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the demands, realistic or not, of their skeptical and restive populaces….Mankind’s relationship with the natural world is aggravating these problems and is a potential source of crisis itself.Last year was the warmest on record, and this year is on track to be even warmer. Extreme weather, along with public policies affecting food and water supplies, can worsen or create humanitarian crises. Of the most immediate concern, sharply reduced crop yields in multiple places simultaneously could trigger a shock in food prices with devastating effect, especially in already fragile regions such as Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
Brad Johnson added, “What experts will often say – and what the Pentagon has been saying – is that global warming has the potential to aggravate existing tensions and security problems, by, for instance, making droughts or water shortages more likely in some areas. That doesn’t mean war or terrorism will be inevitable in a hotter world; climate will typically be just one of many factors involved. But global warming could very well increase the risk of violence, which is why many military officials take it so seriously.”
None of this is even new. TPM reported this week, “A number of papers have also been released by government agencies and their partners examining how to plan for climate change in their operations. The research has been underway since the early years of the George W. Bush administration. In 2003 the Department of Defense released a paper examining the national security implications for abrupt climate change.”
There’s even reason to believe the effects of the climate crisis in Syria contributed to the conditions that sparked its civil war.
I suppose the far-right thinks it’s easy to take cheap shots at Bernie Sanders, but the reality is that the concerns he expressed are entirely in line with concerns raised by American military leaders for years. The New Republic’s Rebecca Leber asked in February, “The U.S. military worries about climate change, so why don’t Republicans?”
The answer, apparently, is that GOP lawmakers, when they’re not denying climate science altogether, are desperately trying to make the case that the climate crisis is “unrelated” to security concerns.
They are, however, quite wrong.