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Framing Climate Change as a National Security Threat

Posted By Meaghan Bresnahan, Association of Climate Change Officers, Thursday, July 31, 2014
At the National Security and Climate Change discussion in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, it was noted repeatedly that although many people may not yet realize it, climate change is impacting the world here and now. As Ian Kraucunas of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory stated, “We are already seeing an increase in certain types of events that are consistent with what [scientists] would expect from climate change, although we can’t attribute any one event to it.”

It is therefore vital that the United States, at the national and local levels, rapidly advances its adaptation and mitigation plans. As such, Kraucunas called on scientists to do a better job of informing decision making by targeting their scientific conclusions and putting them in context for legislators. The panelists further urged those active in the climate change discussion to frame it from a national security point of view.

Craig Gannett of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation noted that the definition of a national security threat has expanded to include massive disruptions caused by climate change. Climate change will increasingly lead to droughts, floods, wildfires, and sea level rise. These effects are going to be major stressors on already unstable nations, potentially increasing the likelihood that they devolve into conflict. Our military will provide aid for increasingly frequent and severe disasters, stretching our own resources even thinner. Domestic agricultural production is also likely to be negatively impacted, and transport may become more difficult and expensive.

Larry Phillips, the chair of the King County Council, summarized the issue elegantly: “Climate change threatens economic security, which is the foundation of national security.” Kraucunas further noted that “climate change is complicating existing threats to national security and raising new ones.”

The melting ice in the Arctic is creating one of those new challenges for the Navy. Commander John Marburger indicated that there will be a potential threat to global security as Arctic sea ice continues to decline and traffic through this newly opened route increases. However, he also stated that the Arctic provides the United States “a chance to get [adaptation] right the first time” through preparation, planning, and international collaboration.

Alice Hill, a senior advisor on the White House National Security Council, highlighted one of the United States’ most decisive efforts toward addressing climate change: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The plan’s three pillars involve mitigation, adaptation, and leading international efforts. The more success we have at the local and federal levels with the first two pillars, the better we will be able to address this evolving national security threat. Further, the longer we wait to take action, the more expensive it will be to combat the effects of climate change. To put it another way, Marburger stated, “disaster prevention is less expensive than disaster relief.”

Kraucunas concluded, “There are things we can do to avoid the unmanageable and to manage the unavoidable.” The sooner the United States initiates serious measures toward mitigation and adaptation, the more we minimize the threat of climate change to our national security.

Tags:  Adaptation  Climate Action Plan  National Security 

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