National Security Network

Ignoring Climate Change Undercuts American Security

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Report 3 June 2010

Energy Energy climate change national security


Yesterday, President Obama made an aggressive pitch for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.  With the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill as backdrop, the president said "If we refuse to take into account the full cost of our fossil fuel addiction - if we don't factor in the environmental costs and national security costs and true economic costs - we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future."  Yet despite the urgency of the challenge that the president highlighted, which undermines America's security at home and abroad, and despite broad support from national security and military leaders, opponents of a clean energy future for the United States continue to delay, distract, and undermine attempts to address this issue.

In particular, extreme conservative politicians continue to ignore the real challenges posed to American security by climate change, preferring instead to politicize and trivialize the national security impacts.  For example, Carly Fiorina, a Senate candidate in California, yesterday released a campaign ad mocking Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for calling climate change "one of the very important national security issues we face" - despite the fact that countless military and national security experts from both sides of the aisle support this view, including 33 retired Generals and Admirals who signed a letter stating that "Climate change is threatening America's security," and that America's dependence on oil makes us "vulnerable."  It is time for the political posturing on such a serious national security issue to end, as one retired general clearly put it: "Military leaders know this isn't about polar bears and ice caps, it's about international stability and national security."

President Obama makes push for climate and energy legislation.  Yesterday, while speaking at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, President Obama made the case for comprehensive climate and energy legislation.  The New York Times reports that, "President Obama said Wednesday that it was time for the United States ‘to aggressively accelerate' its transition from oil to alternative sources of energy and vowed to push for quick action on climate change legislation, despite almost unanimous opposition from Republicans and continued skepticism from some Democrats."  And the Washington Post reports this morning that "The president vowed to gather votes for the climate bill in the ‘coming months.'"  In his remarks, the president stated "I will make the case for a clean-energy future wherever I can, and I will work with anyone from either party to get this done. But we will get this done... The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century."  The President went on to state that, "If we refuse to take into account the full cost of our fossil fuel addiction - if we don't factor in the environmental costs and national security costs and true economic costs - we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future... The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months."  President Obama was referring to the American Power Act, commonly known as the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill, which is currently pending in the Senate, with a meeting scheduled for June 10 of the relevant committee heads, according to Politico. [Washington Post, 6/3/10. New York Times, 6/3/10. President Obama, 6/2/10.  Politico 5/28/10]

Climate change and oil dependence must be addressed, as these twin threats present a challenge to all elements of American national security.  There is clear, bi-partisan recognition that climate change and energy security are twin challenges to our national security. A letter by 33 retired Generals and Admirals testified to the importance of swift action to address both these threats:

Climate Change: "Climate change is threatening America's security. The Pentagon and security leaders of both parties consider climate disruption to be a ‘threat multiplier' - it exacerbates existing problems by decreasing stability, increasing conflict, and incubating the socioeconomic conditions that foster terrorist recruitment. The State Department, the National Intelligence Council and the CIA all agree, and all are planning for future climate-based threats."

Oil Dependence: "America's billion-dollar-a-day dependence on oil makes us vulnerable to unstable and unfriendly regimes. A substantial amount of that oil money ends up in the hands of terrorists. Consequently, our military is forced to operate in hostile territory, and our troops are attacked by terrorists funded by U.S. oil dollars, while rogue regimes profit off of our dependence. As long as the American public is beholden to global energy prices, we will be at the mercy of these rogue regimes. Taking control of our energy future means preventing future conflicts around the world and protecting Americas here at home."

Not only do climate change and oil dependence weigh heavily on our national security, but failing to find solutions to these problems could severely constrain America's economic competitiveness: the basis for our national power.  Bruce Usher, of the Columbia Business School recently wrote: "The United States, with its expertise, capital and entrepreneurial spirit, is well positioned to dominate what could easily be the biggest market of the 21st century. But as the most recent delay over the Senate energy bill shows, the country is missing a key ingredient in shaping an effective clean-tech policy: the political will to encourage the innovation, manufacturing and investment necessary to bring these new technologies to market. And the longer America drags its feet, the more it cedes this enormous potential source of national wealth to the only other country able to capture it - China." [Truman Project Letter, 4/29/10. NY Times, 5/6/10]

Despite the twin challenges posed by energy and climate change, extreme conservatives keep their heads in the sand. Rather than engage constructively in efforts to deal with the dual problems of climate change and oil dependence, extreme conservatives have elected to be willfully ignorant.  California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina recently put out an ad attacking Senator Barbara Boxer for calling climate change a national security threat.  Fiorina's position is consistent with those of other conservatives who have failed to consider the specific implications of their obstruction for our national security. In a statement for Operation Free expressing support for climate and energy legislation, Lt. General John G. Castellaw (U.S. Army, Retired) said "This isn't an environmental issue, this is a security issue. Our strategic interests, and therefore our national security and the safety of Americans, are threatened by climate change and our continuing dependence on oil. Military leaders know this isn't about polar bears and ice caps, it's about international stability and national security."

But like her conservative colleagues, Fiorina has also sought to separate concern for climate change and concern for economy, when most recognize that the two are interwoven. The types of measures contained in the energy bill introduced in the Senate, as well as its counterpart in the House, will act as a boon to the American economy. A report published last year by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) studying the measures contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the American Clean Energy and Security Act found that total clean-energy investments in the United States could rise to "approximately $150 billion per year," which would yield "a net gain of 1.7 million new jobs." Such economic gains confer obvious benefits on America's ability to project leadership in the world's energy sector, and on American power overall. Fiorina's current position also conflicts with past statements, as she supported a cap and trade plan when it was proposed by then Presidential Candidate John McCain back in 2008.

In addition, her attacks are undercut by the positions of the business community Fiorina claims to represent. Hewlett Packard, the company Fiorina ran as CEO, is one of many companies that have been unequivocal about the economic impact of climate change.  As Center for American Progress Action Fund Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss notes, HP's 2008 Global Citizenship Report says: "The cost of responding and adapting to unmitigated climate change could reach between 5 and 20 percent of annual global gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Released in 2006, the report also estimates that mitigating climate change instead would cost approximately one percent of global GDP each year." [Carly Fiorina, 6/2/10. Lt. General John G. Castellaw (U.S. Army, Retired), via Climate Progress, 5/12/10. PERI & CAP Report, via Climate Progress, 6/18/09. Carly Fiorina, 9/03/08. Hewlett-Packard, via Daniel Weiss,11/23/09]

What We're Reading

The Obama administration considers Israel's blockade of Gaza to be untenable and plans to press for another approach to ensure Israel's security while allowing more supplies into the impoverished Palestinian area.

Mourners in Istanbul hoisted coffins above their heads to cheers of "God is great!" to honor activists slain during an Israeli commando raid.

Iran's atomic energy chief claimed that the U.N. nuclear watchdog misunderstood the nature of the experiments at a Tehran laboratory mentioned in the agency's latest report.

Japan's finance minister, Naoto Kan, emerged as the leading candidate to become the country's next leader, one day after the unpopular prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, abruptly announced his resignation.

A senior United Nations official said that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force.

In one of the largest hauls in recent years, police in Texas have seized a cache of weapons allegedly being smuggled to drug gangs in Mexico.

Stability in the communist regime of North Korea has strengthened in the aftermath of the sinking of South Korea's Navy frigate Cheonan, according to a leading private think tank in Seoul.

Greece has outlined plans to partially privatize a number of publicly owned companies in an effort to raise funds to boost government finances.

A leading rights activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been found dead in the capital, Kinshasa.

Despite its massive population, China can't muster a decent soccer team.

Commentary of the Day

Nicholas Kristof writes that President Obama needs to find his voice and push hard for an end to the Gaza blockade because such moves amount to Israel shooting itself in the foot.

Adam Serwer asks if the Obama administration can successfully divorce terrorism from religion.

Fareed Zakaria says the idea that Obama just needs to throw America's weight around more is foolish and dangerous.