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Talking Points: A Threat to National Security

A recent Military Advisory Board report says "projected climate change poses a serious threat to America's national security."

Last month, the Military Advisory Board, a panel of esteemed retired military officers, issued a report that found “projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security” and will continue to over the next 30 to 40 years. The report — “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” — warned that there will be wars over water, increased hunger, instability from worsening disease and rising sea levels, and global warming-induced refugees. “The chaos that results can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide, and the growth of terrorism,” the report predicted. In an interview with The Progress Report, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that “if the impact of climate change is going to make regions of violence poorer, then they really provide a level of fertility for inciting disaffection, resentment against the prosperous world. That’s an indirect effect that can create the conditions for terrorism.” (Listen to the full 10-minute interview here.) Raising the ire of the right wing, the House Intelligence Committee took needed action to set aside funds in order to study the adverse impact that climate change may have on global security.

  • Congress is taking action on the growing threat to national security from climate change. The military experts said the fallout from global warming — massive migrations, increased border tensions, greater demands for rescue and evacuation efforts, and conflicts over essential resources including food and water — could lead to direct U.S. military involvement. On the heels of these warnings, the House Intelligence Committee last week voted to include a provision in the Intelligence Authorization bill that would set aside funds to study the impact of global warming on national security. “We’re concerned that global warming might impact our ability to maintain national security,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX).”For that reason, intelligence analysts are already reviewing the impact of climate change to our nation’s security. Our bill requires that the review be a formal National Intelligence Estimate and that the estimate be provided to Congress.” Because conservatives have blocked action on climate change, notes Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Joseph Romm, “progressives are driven to fund a serious effort by our intelligence agencies to understand the dangerous implications of our do-nothing climate policy.”
  • Conservatives continue to deny the major impacts of climate change. Ret. Gen. Anthony Zinni, President Bush’s former Middle East envoy, said, “It’s not hard to make the connection between climate change and instability, or climate change and terrorism.” Zinni underestimated the resistance to global warming science on the right. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking member on the intelligence committee, claimed “there’s no value added by the intelligence community” in assessing global warming’s security impact. Hoekstra has previously said he’s “not convinced” that we need to make “radical changes solely to address the issue of global warming.” A statement from the House Republican Policy Committee said there is a real question “about whether global warming is a legitimate intelligence priority.” The Pentagon disagrees. In 2003, it issued a report stating in clear language, “Because of the potentially dire consequences, the risk of abrupt climate change…should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.”

  • The technology is available and the time is right for serious action on climate change. The Military Advisory Board wrote, “Managing the security impacts of climate change requires two approaches: mitigating the effects we can control and adapting to those we cannot.” Last week, the IPCC issued its third working group report urging immediate action to control climate change. According to the findings, “we have, at most, eight years to freeze and reverse emissions.” Pachauri explained to The Progress Report, “We have to tell the people of the U.S. that this is something intimately connected with their present and their future. The cost of inaction is going to be far higher than action. And the cost of action is really not all that high.” The technology “is available to make immediate change and in others, the capability is expected to develop within decades. Such is the case with advanced carbon capture and storage technology. When it comes to energy efficiency and conservation, it could simply be a matter of policies that give incentive to change.”