Climate and security


Behind the science of climate change is a growing public consensus that more-frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, and droughts are threatening America’s national security. Such institutions as the Pentagon and the World Bank — hardly tree-hugging radicals — are predicting global military and economic consequences if carbon emissions aren’t reduced.

Such concerns are getting more attention because of the billions of dollars of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, but they are not new. The insurance industry has been adjusting rates in South Florida to respond to rising sea levels in recent years. New York has become one of the nation’s leaders for climate-related urban planning.

America’s political leaders cannot continue to deny the effects of man-made climate change. A new report written for the U.S. intelligence community by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council predicts the world “will experience climate-related conditions it has not seen before” unless more is done to reduce greenhouse gases. The report warns military leaders to expect turmoil if abnormal climate patterns allow extremist groups to gain a stronger foothold in the parched Middle East, starved regions of Africa, and other historically unstable parts of the world.

From corn to cotton, the report says, agricultural losses could rise in foreign and domestic markets that support the U.S. dollar. Government officials are aware of the potential for tension with China, Russia, and other countries over oil exploration in the Arctic as melting opens more shipping lanes.

These warnings are familiar. The Pentagon has spent billions of dollars to make its ships, aircraft, and vehicles more fuel-efficient. It has made installations, including the 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport, less reliant on the regional electric grid with large investments in solar and green energy. Some military leaders, including a former head of Central Command, warn that the United States will “pay the price later in military terms” if it postpones action now.

Those points get lost in tired political rhetoric. In an interview this month with USA Today, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) acknowledged the existence of climate change, but insisted little has been learned about its causes over the past decade.

Such nonsense is as irresponsible as was the opposition to CIA funding by some lawmakers in 2009, when they learned the intelligence agency had opened a Center on Climate Change and National Security.

Science occurs regardless of what lay people claim to believe. Yet climate change has become so politicized that the issue was not raised in this year’s presidential debates, for the first time since NASA’s James Hansen sounded the initial alarm about global warming before Congress in 1988.

Climate change has been the subject of too much denial for too long. That denial is jeopardizing both our economic growth and our national security.