Warming planet, heated debate: climate change fears spill over to the defense community.

Author:Magnuson, Stew
Position:Energy and Security - Cover story


Climate change is a threat to the nation's security.

Politicians and environmentalists who want to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere are using this argument to woo conservative skeptics to their side in the ongoing energy/global warming debate.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, is among those who are convinced. Shortly before a recent Senate debate on the issue, he and two retired military leaders held a press conference.

Ret. Navy Adm. Joe Lopez, said, "National security and the threat of climate change [are] real, and we can pay for it now, or pay even more clearly for it later."

Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a retired Army chief of staff, said he was a one-time skeptic. Now he is convinced that climate change will be a "threat multiplier." In other words, a rapidly changing planet will lead to unstable societies. And instability may mean more work for the armed forces.

"Climate Change, national security and energy dependence are all inter-related," he said. The U.S. military cannot wait for these threats to be proven beyond doubt, he added.

"You never have 100 percent certainty on the battlefield ... If you wait until you have "100 percent certainty, something terrible is going to happen," Sullivan added.

These "terrible" scenarios have been outlined in two think tank studies and one report produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Shifting weather patterns may cause severe droughts, devastating storms, coastal flooding and erosion. Nations may wage war over water as rivers dry up.

Tropical diseases may spread to temperate climates. Widespread population displacements due to these factors may make for an increasingly volatile world, the thinking goes.

Developed nations such as the United States and those in Europe may be able to withstand these calamities. But less stable, underdeveloped countries would have a more difficult time coping.

The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security may be forced to deal with the climate change's indirect consequences, the reports said. Droughts, famine and displaced populations may put pressure on the domestic front. The Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection may face a wave of so-called "climate migrants" coming from stricken nations.

The Defense Department may be called to provide disaster relief following extreme weather events such as hurricanes. Societies in turmoil are also fertile breeding grounds for extremist or separatists groups. Ground forces may be ordered to resolve conflicts, the reports noted.

The Defense Department "needs to integrate the national security consequences of climate change into national security and national...

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