Migrants fleeing African drought turned back by police as they try to rush the gate to Spanish North African coastal enclave of Melilla, March 22, 2014. / Getty Images
In case you missed it: The U.S. House of Representatives voted last Thursday to bar the Pentagon from spending any money to study or prepare for the impact of climate change on military operations.
The ban came in an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, the annual measure that provides the Defense Department its budget. It passed by a mostly party-line margin of 231 to 192, with four Democrats — all red-state Southerners — voting yes and three Republicans — a New Yorker and two from New Jersey — voting no.
The amendment, authored by GOP Representative David McKinley of West Virginia, reads as follows:
None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866.
Fox News quoted a McKinley spokesman saying that “Rather than blindly accepting drastic climate change policies, we ought to be debating their effectiveness and their impact.”
The amendment came just 11 days after a Pentagon think tank, the Center for Naval Analyses, released a 68-page report (PDF; web version and analysis here) titled “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.” It points to likely threats, some already here and others anticipated, that call for planning and preparation by the military. Among them are rising sea levels undermining coastal military bases with salt water seepage; droughts and extreme weather causing instability, unrest and massive population movements in failed states; and tinder-box conditions in the Arctic as nations scramble for resources unlocked by melted ice.
Defense One, a widely respected military insiders’ journal, reported on May 7 — before the McKinley amendment surfaced — that the Pentagon has come to regard the fact of climate change and “the realities of temperature increases” as an essential “part of everyday planning.”
It quoted the Defense Department’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, published in 2010, as saying that the department
will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on our facilities and military capabilities…. While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas.
That adjustment and planning will be a lot harder now that the Republican Congress has forbidden spending any money on it. On the other hand, maybe the administration can take a page from the Reagan administration and fund the operation off the books — say, by selling weapons to Iran. Hey, it worked for Reagan.
The National Climate Assessment, released May 6, is an 840-page document summarizing the perceptible impact climate change has had on the United States so far and the expected consequences in coming decades. It’s the third in a series mandated by Congress under an act signed into law in 1991 by the first President Bush. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a United Nations scientific consortium that’s been working since 1988 to measure the extent and pace of climate change and seek international cooperation to combat it. Its Fifth Assessment Report was released in stages over the past year.
The Democrats who voted for the amendment were Nick Rahall of West Virginia, John Barrow of central Georgia, Henry Cuellar of south-central Texas and Mike McIntyre of southeastern North Carolina. All four are members of the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats.
The Republicans who voted no were Scott Garrett and Frank LoBiondo, both of New Jersey, and Chris Gibson of upstate New York.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).