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Brief #57—Enviroment

Policy Summary
Climate change poses an immediate risk to international stability, General Waldhauser (Commander, AFRICOM) told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. He cited research done by the Red Cross, which found that the effects of climate change directly worsen violent conflicts and lead to more poverty and weaker public services. Gen. Waldhauser also highlighted his personal observations of grasslands in the Sahel, the bioregion between the Sahara and the Sudanian Savanna, where temperatures are rising at a rate of more than 1.5 times faster than the global average. The grasslands there, he recounted, are receding by as much a “a mile a year,” significantly contributing to food scarcity and armed conflict.

The general’s testimony to congress comes after a flurry of reports documenting the threat of climate change to national security. A January report by the Pentagon, entitled “Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense,” found that 53 of 79 mission-critical US bases are at immediate risk of being damaged or destroyed by rising sea levels. Many of the bases in question are integral to the maintenance of American nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. In February, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar cautioned that, should the current administration fail to act to reverse this trend, the next POTUS should declare a national emergency over the issue.

Policy Analysis
The threat that climate change poses to the national security of the US has been well documented for years. In 2014, the Pentagon released a report classifying climate change as a “threat multiplier” that posed “immediate risks” to the safety and security of the nation. It is unsurprising then that General Waldhauser used the exact same words to describe climate change before the committee on Thursday, underscoring the fact that the military has not changed its mind on the issue regardless of what the current administration may say.

Indeed, it is important to note that the military will feel the brunt of climate change’s worst effects both sooner, and more harshly than the general public. President Trump’s push to declare a national emergency directly threatens funds that the Navy requires to maintain its two aged icebreaker ships. Ships that are being used more frequently than ever before due to increased competition with Russia and China in the arctic, where melting ice caps have opened new waterways for commercial and military vessels.

The international implications of the current administration’s rebuttal of climate science are immense. During the committee hearing on Thursday, General Waldhauser’s colleague, General Joseph Votel (Commander, CENTCOM), stated that the US had entered “New era of great power competition,” and highlighted the international influence currently being cultivated by China, who is developing and building resilient infrastructure across the globe.

In the existential crisis that is climate change, it can be quite easy to forget about this last issue. Regardless of whether the US succeeds in limiting emissions, creating new green technologies, or protecting its food supply, the simple fact is that a lack of commitment to developing climate resiliency in partner nations is already leading to a decrease in US influence abroad. The current administration’s inaction in seriously combating climate change is contributing directly to global instability and a weakened national defense, a sentiment made clear by the top commanders of the US military. When asked by the committee whether there was sufficient data to declare climate change a significant threat to national security, Generals Votel and Waldhauser said simply, “Yes.”

Engagement Resources

  • Climate Centre: The climate reference wing of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.
  • Climate Deregulation Tracker: Columbia Law School tool for tracing legal attempts to roll back or eliminate climate legislation
  • The Climate Mobilization: Volunteer organization seeking to curb the effects of climate change
  • The Consensus Project: Organization dedicated to educating the public about scientific consensus and the scientific community’s stance on climate change
  • Data for Progress: Research organization dedicated to highlighting voter attitudes
  • UN Environment: United Nations program designed to map pathways toward sustainable development
  • Union of Concerned Scientists: A US non-profit dedicating to applying scientific solutions to global problems.

This brief was submitted by USRESIST environmental policy analyst Andrew Thornebrooke. Contact: contact@thornebrooke.com

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