posted by Nicholas Cunningham on November 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm
Today, the American Security Project released a major publication, “The Climate Security Report,” which clearly connects the dots between climate change and national security. The report was launched at an event this morning, held at ASP, featuring retired military officers: Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, US Army (Ret.); Brigadier General Steven Anderson, US Army (Ret.); CEO of American Security Project Brigadier General Steve Cheney, USMC (Ret.); and Andrew Holland, Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate at ASP.
Gen. Christman began by discussing the threat of climate change to America’s domestic security. Noting that other nations around the world, notably the Netherlands, made a national commitment decades ago to guard against rising sea levels. In the case of the United States, we have only reacted to extreme weather events, instead of planning for them. The federal government rebuilt the New Orleans levee system at a cost of $14 billion only after the region experienced the worst disaster in its history.
Many critics often cite the fact that planning for climate change will be costly, but Andrew Holland notes that not addressing the threats of climate change is penny wise and pound foolish. Sure, we will save some money by doing nothing in the short-term, but the national security threat of climate change will only grow over, costing significantly more than preventive measures in the first place. Rising sea levels, drought, severe storms, floods, and altered agricultural production threaten not only the American economy, but its infrastructure, its people, and its security.
General Anderson also discussed the stress that climate change puts on American military readiness. Just this past weekend the northeast experienced the strongest storm on record, inundating several states, flooding lower Manhattan, crippling roads, bridges and subways, and killing at least 82 people. In response, thousands of National Guard forces were mobilized to provide relief efforts – providing water, fuel and rescue. Gen. Anderson noted that while that was obviously the right thing to do, these forces will be increasingly burdened with climate change and responses to it. This has a negative “operational impacts” on our armed forces – additional burdens that sap the military of money, manpower, and other logistical resources.
Gen. Anderson also went on to discuss the physical damages resulting from climate change. A National Intelligence Council report in 2008 declared that more than 30 U.S. military installations around the world are at risk due to climate change. Rising sea levels, severe storms, coastal erosion are some of the impacts that undermine the security of these military bases. ASP goes into detail on this important issue in a fact sheet, which you can find here. Some of the most threatened bases are: Diego Garcia, an important logistics hub in the Indian Ocean; Guam, a logistics hub in the Pacific; Bahrain, an important base in the Persian Gulf; and several others.
Lastly, why now? Why would ASP do a report on climate change now? The literature on the connection between national security and climate change is not new. However, the national security impacts of climate change, while hitherto discussed as future problems, are affecting America’s security today. ASP details these effects, and what we may expect in the future.
Furthermore, some recent global events have the fingerprint of climate change. Andrew Holland noted that refugees of Bangladesh have fled in droves from the coast to cities, and also across the border into India. Violence erupted in eastern India this past summer. While there are multiple causes for this violence, climate change contributed to tensions by forcing people to migrate.
Finally, climate change has often been discussed as a threat to fragile states around the world. While that is certainly a concern, what is often overlooked is the homeland security threats to the United States itself. The hurricane this past week is merely one example of that.
ASP’s “Climate Security Report” is timely and hopefully will impact the discussion on climate change. The next administration begins next Wednesday, and addressing climate change is a national security imperative.