The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises. The report lays out a road map to show how the military will adapt to rising sea levels, more violent storms and widespread droughts. The Defense Department will begin by integrating plans for climate change risks across all of its operations, from war games and strategic military planning situations to a rethinking of the movement of supplies.
For all of the many scary aspects of the climate crisis, it's important not to forget the national security implications.
"The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a group of contemporaries in Peru yesterday. "Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration."
The Pentagon's findings come on the heels of a related report from a leading government-funded military research organization, which found the "accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict."
Among the areas of concern are conflicts over natural resources, food scarcity, the effects of rising sea levels, and the potential for refugee crises.
Yesterday's report was, however, a little different. As the New York Times' report noted, "Before, the Pentagon's response to climate change focused chiefly on preparing military installations to adapt to its effects, like protecting coastal naval bases from rising sea levels. The new report, however, calls on the military to incorporate climate change into broader strategic thinking about high-risk regions -- for example, the ways in which drought and food shortages might set off political unrest in the Middle East and Africa."
In a political context, it's worth acknowledging that congressional Republicans not only oppose such "broader strategic thinking," they've also taken deliberate steps to prevent the Pentagon from even considering such concerns.
Kate Sheppard reported in May that House Republicans "passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill ... that would bar the Department of Defense from using funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security."
Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), the sponsor of the measure, argued at the time, "The climate is obviously changing; it has always been changing. With all the unrest around the [world], why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology?"
The answer, as we discussed at the time, is that climate change and national security, whether the right chooses to acknowledge this or not, are inextricably linked. Telling U.S. military leaders they must bury their heads in the sand because congressional Republicans say so won't help.
Among those voting for the measure: Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)*. All five of these far-right representatives voted to prevent the Pentagon from considering the national security implications of global warming, and all five are poised for promotions to the U.S. Senate.
* Correction/Update: It looks like I missed one. As Eric Edlund reminds me, Rep. Steve Daines (R) of Montana also voted to block the Defense Department on this, and he's also poised to get a promotion to the Senate.