Climate can affect security

Published 10:21 am Thursday, April 2, 2015

Climate change is not only an environmental issue, it can have profound national security implications. In fact the Department of Defense, and a group of distinguished retired officers, have recently issued warnings of security threats created by climate change. How are they linked?

First, climate change and national security are intimately linked by the fact that the most urgent threats to America, and the warming of the planet, are both driven by our addiction to oil.

The burden that the American military has borne since 1979 for the protection of Persian Gulf’s oil supplies has been immense. ISIS, Russian military power, and the Iranian nuclear program all ultimately trace their funding to oil sales.

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Our addiction to fossil fuels will also create new and novel security threats. Rising sea levels could create millions of climate refugees. Stronger ocean storms driven by rising ocean temperatures will have the same effect. Refugee flows on a massive scale could create political instability in places where governance is already weak.

How will storms like these affect the stability of governments already challenged by their own weakness and insurgency? Warming temperatures are allowing tropical diseases to migrate to areas that never had to deal with such epidemics.

Our experience with Ebola in West Africa, and the near hysteria in America, demonstrate the powerful effect these epidemics can have, especially on societies with poor public health systems.

Perhaps the most dangerous effect of a warming world will be ever more severe droughts and the expansion of the world’s deserts. The Syrian civil war, which has destabilized the Middle East and given ISIS the opportunity to grow, was preceded by a five-year long drought that created 1.5 million climate refugees, helping create the conditions that made civil war more likely.

Finally, climate models predict that much of the United States will be affected by exceptional, prolonged drought, as evidenced by the severe drought in California in recent years.

This will be especially severe in the Southwest and in the Great Plains, the greatest food producing region on earth. Growing food insecurity could be a real threat to American national security in the 21st Century.

The good news is that the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. The Obama administration has raised fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and in the last year introduced regulations to curtail emissions by power plants, which are responsible for one-third of CO2 emissions.

The historic U.S.-China agreement to limit carbon pollution and increase the pace of green energy investment, will pave the way for a worldwide treaty in 2015. These are important first steps to address the climate crisis, but they are already meeting powerful opposition.

Our future, and American national security, depend on us overcoming this opposition.


Robert McCollister