OPED: Climate change and our national security

Jon Clark, Guest-Column

Within our halls of Congress, climate change is a politically charged topic, but when our defense and security experts examine risk to our national security, they look at science, not politics. National security experts account and plan for all risk, and they are making it crystal clear that climate change is a threat to our national security. 

In this photo taken Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, a scrap collector salvages material from a demolished neighborhood near a chimney spewing smoke, in Beijing, China.  China's push for a global climate pact was partly because of its own increasingly pressing need to solve serious environmental problems, observers said Sunday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

“The current trajectory of climate change presents a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security, and inaction is not a viable option.” This comes from a statement made by the Climate Security Consensus Project, that urges a “robust agenda to both prevent and prepare for climate change risks, and avoid potentially unmanageable climate driven scenarios.” The Climate Security Consensus Project consists of a bipartisan group of 25 senior military and national security experts, many of whom served under past Republican or Democratic administrations.  I’ll highlight just a few quotes from the statement and talk a little about each. By no means are these the only ways climate change threatens our security. You can read the full statement at

“The impacts of climate change present significant and direct risks to U.S. military readiness, operations and strategy.”

According to a military expert panel from the Center for Climate and Security, the capability of our military to launch missions, whether war or humanitarian, depends on the stability of our climate and the stability of coastlines. The stability of the 1,774 US military sites spread worldwide along 95,471 miles of coastline from which the military launches its operations “is set to change dramatically due to sea level rise and storm surge.” For example, Marine Corps Recruit Base Depot Parris Island, South Carolina and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina are key training facilities for our Marines. “Under plausible high risk scenarios, in 35-55 years, low-lying areas of these facilities could be underwater for a third of the year, which could have implications for amphibious assault training and other essential training functions at these installations” according to the Center for Climate and Security.

OPED: Coal country hit by a changing climate

“The impacts of climate change present significant and direct risks to the U.S. homeland, including to critical energy and military infrastructure, the populations of coastal and water-stressed regions, economic hubs on the coasts and inland, and essential agricultural lands.”

Norfolk Virginia is home to the largest naval base in the world. According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, today, tidal flooding in the Norfolk area affects low-lying areas nine times a year on average. With the National Climate Assessment’s (which summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States), midrange projections of sea level rise, these areas within and around the station flood 280 times a year and spend 10 percent of the year underwater by 2050.  In the highest scenario, “roughly 20 percent of the naval station floods daily, becoming part of the tidal zone by 2100.”

“The impacts of climate change will increase the likelihood of more frequent and elaborate Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission requirements.”

The humanitarian efforts of our military are often overlooked. Both at home and abroad, our military plays a vital role as first responder.  When natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires strike the homeland, the response capabilities of local and state authorities can be quickly overwhelmed. As the world warms, climate change is causing extreme weather disasters to become more frequent and more intense. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2015, there were 10 weather events across the United States where the damages exceeded a billion dollars. As of May of this year, there were 8 billion dollar plus weather events and they seem to be stacking up quickly. On a typical day, about 4,000 National Guard members are responding to emergencies across the United States in support of state and local governments, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, the adjutant general of the Army for the South Carolina National Guard. Abroad, our military receives a foreign disaster relief request every two weeks. Extreme weather disasters fueled by climate change are not only costing taxpayers billions of dollars, they are stretching our military capabilities and threatening our security. 

OPED: Ellicott City video mirrors our response to climate change

We understand the problem, so what do we do to address global warming?  Economists overwhelmingly agree that putting a price on carbon pollution is the best way to quickly reduce the carbon emissions created from burning fossil fuels and causing the planet to warm. The United States lags behind in putting a price on carbon pollution. Neither the costs of climate change nor the associated security risks are included in the price of fossil fuels. In the United States, the fossil fuels industry pockets 100 percent of the profit while society shoulders 100 percent of the costs of damages from burning fossil fuels. Even China (who passed us to become the world’s number one polluter) will put a price on carbon pollution before we will. Last year, China announced they will be creating a cap-and trade program to reduce emissions from major industries including cement, paper, steel, and electric power generation. China plans to start the nationwide program next year. 

A growing number of Representatives in Congress are signaling they are willing to work with members across the aisle on this issue. The House Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus has four new members, two Democrats and two Republicans. I would like to see many more members of Congress put aside partisan politics, join the Caucus, and begin to reduce the risk climate change poses to our national security. 

Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Dover.