Climate Change Poses Threat to National Security

Problem Is More Serious Than Just Caring for the Earth

Parched Earth: The dried shores of Lake Gruyere in Switzerland, affected by continous drought.
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Parched Earth: The dried shores of Lake Gruyere in Switzerland, affected by continous drought.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 11, 2013, issue of March 15, 2013.
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If you missed this one, don’t beat yourself up. Hardly anybody noticed it. It was just another one of those calls for action to combat climate change, an “open letter” to the president and Congress from about three dozen public figures. We’ve seen hundreds of these things by now. After a while, they all look the same.

If there was anything different about this one to merit a second look, it might be the fact that it didn’t mention healing the planet or saving God’s creatures. Instead, it described climate change in starkly pragmatic terms as a “serious threat to American national security interests.” And it spelled out why.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the 38 signers were a collection of some of the country’s most distinguished authorities on national security, including nine retired generals and admirals, a former CIA director, both heads of the 9/11 Commission, 15 former senators and House members (10 Republicans, five Democrats) plus former secretaries of state, defense and other cabinet members from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations, father and son.

Given that kind of heft, you might think it would have gotten some respectful press coverage. But no. One article at Politico.com and a handful at obscure specialty websites. That’s it.

The silence is particularly odd when you consider the fact that the letter comes amid a virtual barrage of new warnings from intelligence, defense and other public agencies about the security dangers posed by climate change. In the past four months, at least four lengthy scientific reports have been published that detail various aspects of the threat — one in November, one in December and two in February. Three were produced or funded by arms of the U.S. intelligence community. The fourth came from an unusual consortium of conservative and liberal think tanks.

All four walk the reader in varying degrees of detail through scientific evidence of changing climate over time due to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. From there, each proceeds to look at evidence linking the changes in climate to increased incidence of drought, flood, storm, wildfire and other extreme weather events in particular regions. All of them connect the extreme weather to food and water shortages, epidemics, natural disasters and other crises. These in turn lead to regional conflicts, government instability and disruptive migration.

“If we have difficulty figuring out how to deal with immigration today, look at the prospects for the glacial retreats in the Andes,” former CIA director James Woolsey said at a February 25 press conference where the security letter was released, according to a press release. “If that starts to go away, we will have millions upon millions of southern neighbors hungry, thirsty, with crops failing and looking for some place in the world they can go.”


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