18 September 2016

Climate change is a military problem, former US officials say

September 15, 2016

From time to time, tidal flooding soaks portions of the US Naval Academy grounds in Annapolis, Md., where service members have studied since its founding in 1845. As sea levels rise and extreme weather strikes more often due to climate change, however, flooding could affect the site so frequently that it becomes unusable by the end of the century.

That warning is among many outlined in a report unveiled Wednesday by The Center for Climate & Security, with endorsements from retired US military officers and former national security officials. The bipartisan group of supporters called upon the current and coming administrations to anticipate the global conflicts that climate change could cause, and to protect the more than 1,700 coastal sites maintained by the American military across the globe.

“There isn’t a region in the world where rising seas don’t affect our military readiness and operations, and complicate our ability to do our job,” retired US Coast Guard Vice Adm. Rob Parker said in a statement released with the report.

Even certain current conflicts can be attributed, in part, to climate, as US Secretary of State John Kerry noted during a speech last fall at Old Dominion University.

“It’s not a coincidence that immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced its worst drought on record,” Mr. Kerry said. “As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

Alongside the report on rising seas, the Washington-based think tank released a national security “briefing book” for the next president and a consensus statement on climate change signed by 25 former officials.

“These reports make it crystal clear. To national security and defense leaders, there’s absolutely nothing political about climate change,” the think tank’s co-presidents, Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, said in a written statement. “It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it.”

Since the reports drew such bipartisan support from so many former officials, they could increase future pressure on the White House to dedicate more resources to climate change, which has not been a top priority on the 2016 campaign trail.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has advocated for clean energy and fracking regulation, while her Republican opponent Donald Trump has said global warming is a concept “created by the and for the Chinese” to hurt American business.

Recommendations in the reports include the creation of a cabinet-level official to focus on domestic climate change and related security issues.

The reports and their endorsements failed to impress James Lewis, a senior vice president and program director with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who suggested the military has more pressing threats to address.

“We tend to militarize everything,” Dr. Lewis tells The Christian Science Monitor. While climate change is an indisputable fact and fixing it would be worthwhile, it’s not a Department of Defense mission, he adds.

“People have gotten used to tagging the word ‘security’ to any issue we have,” Mr. Lewis adds. “Trying to cram everything into the security framework means we end up being less effective in addressing things.”

But the officials who spoke in support of the reports contend they have no choice but to engage.

“Because we define our interests globally, we have to take these things into account,” retired US Army Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. said during an interview with The Weather Channel. “Many conflicts throughout our history have been based on resource competition. Increasingly in the future we’ll be defining some of our national security interests in those resource contests.”

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