How Climate Change Became a National Security Problem
Last week, we saw a monstrous winter storm that brought most of the East Coast to a grinding halt. More than 80 million Americans were impacted and eleven states declared a state of emergency. While we know that weather and climate are not one in the same, the recent blizzard elucidates a trend that has been emerging for some time — climate change is rapidly altering the world around us, contributing to higher temperatures, changing seasonal patterns, and the loss of habitats and species.
But these are not the only consequences of climate change. Climate change is also affecting the national security of the United States. Seen as a “threat multiplier,” climate change is exacerbating many of the challenges we confront around the world today and may produce new challenges for us in the future. As a global power with strategic interests around the world, climate change is immensely important to us because of the impact it has on the regional stability of our allies.
Climate change is affecting the national security of the United States.
Internationally, climate change is already causing humanitarian disasters and resource scarcity that accelerates instability, contributes to political violence, and undermines weak governments. Changing temperatures and rainfall levels threaten water security and agriculture in already-fragile countries. Climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. And rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions at risk.
The increasing scarcity of resources in regions across the globe is stressing governments that are trying to provide basic needs for their citizens. Poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions — all resulting from climate change — are putting those countries at a significant risk of state failure and devolution into chaos. In already-volatile regions of the world, these are highly dangerous conditions that can enable terrorist activity and exacerbate refugee crises.
And as these threats around the world continue to multiply due to climate change, the U.S. is forced to extend our limited resources in humanitarian aid and military security to more locations in an effort to keep the peace, protect our interests and allies, and avoid major conflicts. Because of these reasons and more, the Department of Defense declared the threat of climate change will affect the Pentagon’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security. President Obama, in his convocation speech to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May, said that climate change ranks alongside terrorism as a grave threat to America’s future. The CIA and the Department of State have also identified climate change as a national security challenge. At the federal level, Congress is the only entity that continues to refuse to act on this issue.
As a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am briefed every week on our most pressing and urgent threats. And it is clear that climate change is one of them. We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change from super storms in the U.S. to devastating droughts in the Middle East. As climate change continues to strain economies and societies across the world, it will only create additional resource burdens and impact the way our military executes its missions, with more emphasis on crisis prevention, humanitarian assistance, and government stabilization.
As a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am briefed every week on our most pressing and urgent threats. And it is clear that climate change is one of them.
While we can’t reverse climate change, we can work with our partners around the world to slow the process and protect our national security. The recent climate conference in Paris was a monumental step in setting the world on the right path to address this ever growing problem. But we can’t stop there. The health and security of future generations depends on our actions today.