The scale of the threats to our national and global security that climate change is creating is staggering. These are well known to America’s military and security experts. Yet the voices of these persons are not being adequately heard and acted on in Washington, even as these dangers to our country increase.
Climate change is creating a tremendous range of problems that will increasingly cause and worsen violence and conflicts. For example, droughts (like that in Syria) are multiplying the scale of conflict and migration. Water, food and grazing shortages will push tremendous numbers of people into areas controlled by others, creating and worsening conflicts in places like Darfur, in Sudan. Rising sea levels are a truly enormous threat, including through the future flooding of mega-cities on coasts around the world and the forced displacement of many millions. The melting of the Arctic ice caps is already creating international tensions with Russia over rights to underwater resources.
The U.S. military and intelligence organizations are keenly aware of these threats to our national and global security, and the need for preventive actions to mitigate them. Our military sees climate change as both a core cause of conflict as well as acting as a “threat multiplier” to compound the impact of other causes. Our military also continues to work on its Climate Change Adaption Roadmap, which is sounding the alarm for damage to our military capabilities, like the threat of rising sea waters to our key naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.
The CIA and other intelligence agencies see an increasingly dangerous and unstable world due to climate change. This includes violence and conflicts in places that will draw in U.S. involvement. Climate change will also create fertile grounds for radical groups to recruit among populations who have become impoverished and driven from their lands by climate change. The U.S. military and intelligence leaders are experts at risk analysis, and they recognize that the existing information base on climate change is far beyond what is needed to take action. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a commander who has information from 97 percent of his sources about a pending catastrophic attack on his troops then demanding more information before taking action.
The U.S. military and security agencies are not political people; they are professionals who are dedicated to providing the best information and analysis possible to decision makers, and who have committed their lives to defending our country. That military commitment includes the men and women of the 10th Mountain Division here in New York’s 21st Congressional District who have been deployed to Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It will be a tragedy if men and women from the 10th will be asked in the future to risk their lives in conflicts linked to climate change that could have been avoided if our political leaders had shown strategic vision and political courage.
Our representative from the 21st District in the House of Representatives in Washington — Ms. Elise Stefanik — is well placed to play a leading role in fighting this danger to our national security. She has publicly stated her concerns about the serious threats of climate change. She has excellent access to the views of the military and intelligence experts, including as the chair for the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities within the House Armed Services Committee and as a member of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She is also a member of the new bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus of the House of Representatives.
The responsibility to promote action against this threat to our national security lies with many of us. However, Ms. Stefanik in particular can be a leader in taking this issue out of the political realm and putting it firmly in the scientific and security areas where it belongs, including insisting that we listen to our security experts. Those of us in the 21st District should strongly urge such bipartisan leadership, at a time when our country sorely needs it.
Lance Clark is a former United Nations Ambassador with 35 years of experience in international work in emergency relief in conflicts, forcible displacements, early warning of conflicts, and peace operations and peacebuilding. This includes in places such as Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Iraq, Chechnya, Georgia (former USSR), Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia and other countries. He and his wife Nancy now live in Hague, New York.