National Security Network

A Climate of Denial

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Report 19 October 2010

Energy Energy


The conservative movement has a habit of denying the obvious on national security issues.  Nowhere is this more clear than with the real and current threats posed by climate change and energy dependency.  With the exception of Mark Kirk from Illinois who has flip-flopped on the issue, every conservative Senate candidate, from Tea Party newcomers to long-serving senators denies the existence of these national security challenges.  Among those who guard our security, the view couldn't be more different.  Just last week the Pentagon hosted its first-ever Energy Security Forum to explore the different options for dealing with climate change and energy security.  For the military, this is pragmatism, not partisanship.   It's fair to ask how these candidates plan to deal with the accelerated conflicts, vulnerable supply lines and heightened global tensions that the military believes will come without change to our energy future.

Candidates' radical denials.  The New York Times writes, "With one exception, none of the Republicans running for the Senate - including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning - accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming. The candidates are not simply rejecting solutions, like putting a price on carbon, though these, too, are demonized. They are re-running the strategy of denial perfected by Mr. Cheney a decade ago, repudiating years of peer-reviewed findings about global warming and creating an alternative reality in which climate change is a hoax or conspiracy... In one way or another, though, all are custodians of a strategy whose guiding principle has been to avoid debate about solutions to climate change by denying its existence - or at least by diminishing its importance."

Sharron Angle, Nevada Senate candidate: Climate change is a "fraudulent science" [Sharron Angle, via the Washington Post, 6/9/10]

Joe Miller, Alaska Senate candidate: "We haven't heard there's man-made global warming." [Joe Miller, via the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 8/23/10]

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), 2008 presidential candidate:  Once a supporter of cap and trade, now says that "I think it's an inexact science, and there has been more and more questioning about some of the conclusions that were reached concerning climate change. And I believe that everybody in the world deserves correct answers whether the scientific conclusions were flawed by outside influences. There's great questions about it that need to be resolved." [John McCain, 3/13/10]

Carly Fiorina, California Senate candidate: When as asked "Is climate change real?" Fiorina responded: "I'm not sure. I think we should have the confidence and courage to test the science." [Carly Fiorina, via KRON-TV, 3/18/10]

Ken Buck, Colorado Senate candidate: "I'll tell you, I have looked at global warming, now climate change, from both sides. While I think the earth is warming, I don't think that man-made causes are the primary factor. I am one of those people that Al Gore refers to as a skeptic." [Ken Buck, via KBDI-TV, 3/10]

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA):  has called evidence from liberals supporting climate change "ridiculous pseudo-science garbage." [David Vitter, via Huffington Post, 10/14/10]

Marco Rubio, Florida Senate candidate: used "believer in man-made global warming" as an epithet against former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, saying, "I don't think there's the scientific evidence to justify it." [Tampa Bay Tribune, 2/13/10]

In contrast, America's military and national security apparatus see the dual threats of climate change and energy security as "a strategic imperative." As former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John Warner (Ret) (R-VA) has said about these threats: "On the battlefield, we never wait until we have 100 percent certainty or wait for the conditions to be 100 percent ideal. We have to act when we have enough information to act."

Department of Defense. "The Department is developing policies and plans to manage the effects of climate change on its operating environment, missions, and facilities. The Department already performs environmental stewardship at hundreds of DoD installations throughout the United States, working to meet resource efficiency and sustainability goals." [Quadrennial Defense Review, February 2010]

Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen. "We in the Defense Department have a role to play here -- not solely because we should be good stewards of the environment and our scarce resources, but also because there is a strategic imperative for us to reduce risk, improve efficiencies, and preserve our freedom of action whenever we can." [Adm. Michael Mullen, 10/13/10]

CIA opens Center on Climate Change and National Security. In a press release announcing the opening of the center and explaining its value, the CIA said the center's job is to "bring together in a single place expertise on an important national security topic-the effect environmental factors can have on political, economic, and social stability overseas." [CIA, 9/25/09]

U.S. military testing clean energy technologies in the field. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the military is working to put clean technologies that will make our troops safer in the field. "Last week, a Marine company from California arrived in the rugged outback of Helmand Province bearing novel equipment: portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment." [NY Times, 10/4/10]

National Intelligence Council, the U.S. intelligence community's center for midterm and long-range strategic thinking found that, "The United States depends on a smooth-functioning international system ensuring the flow of trade and market access to critical raw materials such as oil and gas, and security for its allies and partners. Climate change and climate change policies could affect all of these-domestic stability in a number of key states, the opening of new sea lanes and access to raw materials, and the global economy more broadly-with significant geopolitical consequences." [National Intelligence Council, June 2008]

[Sen. John Warner, 4/24/09]

Twin challenges of climate change and energy insecurity are real and current threats to U.S. national security.  As we saw earlier this month with attacks on long U.S. supply lines in Pakistan, as well as with the floods that have decimated that country, energy security and climate change have dire strategic consequences:

Accelerating threats. On the threat from climate change, the Quadrennial Defense Review says, "While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world." [QDR, February 2010]

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." [Letter from 33 retired Generals and Admirals, 4/29/10]

Long, vulnerable supply lines. "Certainly, for current operations and for the future, one of the things we're really focused on is reducing demand, [which is] reducing our consumption, because no matter what kind of energy we're using, the amount of energy we're using causes us problems in practice -- particularly in the kinds of fights we're fighting today where so much of our logistics train is in the battlefield," Sharon Burke, director of the Pentagon's operational energy plans and programs, said last week. [Sharon Burke, 10/18/10]

Increased tensions even in stable parts of the world. The Center for Naval Analysis, a Navy-funded think tank, writes that, "The U.S. and Europe may experience mounting pressure to accept large numbers of immigrant and refugee populations as drought increases and food production declines in Latin America and Africa. Extreme weather events and natural disasters, as the U.S. experienced with Hurricane Katrina, may lead to increased missions for a number of U.S. agencies, including state and local governments, the Department of Homeland Security, and our already stretched military, including our Guard and Reserve forces." [Center for Naval Analysis, April 2007]

What We're Reading

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have had their differences over the years, but on one thing they appear to agree: if Europe wants to remain relevant in the world and maintain peace in its own backyard, it needs Russia.

Israel's recent push to be recognized as a "Jewish" state is actually a new twist on an old struggle, and one that is rapidly turning into the latest stumbling block to faltering peace talks.

U.S. commanders seeking to increase security in remote parts of Afghanistan are planning to arm and train at least 20,000 Afghans to serve as village police.

Somalia's struggling transitional government and its allies have undertaken a limited offensive against radical Islamist insurgents, attacking their positions in several places over the past few days.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said that the U.S. remains committed to its alliance with Turkey despite months of high-profile tensions with NATO's only Muslim-majority member state.

The UK Ministry of Defense is about to have its budget slashed by about 8 percent.

On Oct. 20, Iraq will embark on the next phase of development of its hydrocarbon sector by auctioning rights to three natural gas fields to private investors.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said he is open to a political dialogue with China once remaining economic issues are resolved, though he gave no timetable.

Mexican drug cartels are expanding their presence on the U.S. side of the border.

Heavily armed gunmen burst onto the grounds of the Chechen Parliament in southern Russia, killing at least three people and wounding more than a dozen before they were killed.

Commentary of the Day

Clyde Prestowitz argues that the U.S. must stop applying revisionist history when taking lessons from how we won the trade war against Japan and applying them to the current Chinese dilemma.

David Ignatius writes that Gen. Petraeus is changing the Afghanistan playbook by using more force while simultaneously creating more avenues for discourse.

Richard Barrett argues that it's time to talk to the Taliban.