Skeptics of human-caused climate change unremittingly contend that the science is inconclusive and the debate still is unsettled. The U.S. military, on the other hand, entertains no such doubts.
As far back as 2003, during the first term of the Bush/Cheney Administration, a specially commissioned Pentagon report titled "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and the Implications for United States Security" warned that rapid climate change could "potentially de-stabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles and even war" over scarce food, water and energy supplies. The threat of climate change, the report went on to state, needed to "be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern."
By the time the Defense Department's Center for Naval Analyses released its landmark 2007 report, "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change," the Bush/Cheney Administration had officially acknowledged the reality of global warming — although it continued to question whether humans were the cause. The 11-member Military Advisory Board of retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals who headed up the Center's study, however, unanimously accepted the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, concluding that "the evidence is sufficiently compelling and the consequences sufficiently grave" to warrant the military's urgent attention.
The MAB asserted that climate change acts as a "threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world." In response, the MAB proposed a number of recommendations, including that
· The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies;
· The United States should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability;
· The United States should commit to global partnerships that help less-developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.
The report also called upon the Pentagon to adopt its own energy efficiency measures.
Every four years, the Department of Defense issues a congressionally mandated "Quadrennial Defense Review" framing the Pentagon's strategic choices and establishing priorities to determine appropriate resource investments. In February 2010, for the first time, climate change was formally designated in the QDR as a "National Security Threat."
Climate-related changes, from increases in heavy downpours and rises in temperature and sea levels to rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost and earlier snowmelt "are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters," the QDR notes. It warns that "climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration. While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability and conflict ..."
The 2010 QDR also addresses the fact the Defense Department is itself the world's largest consumer of fossil fuels and, correspondingly, the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases. In the review, the Pentagon pledges to dramatically reduce its own carbon footprint through increased energy efficiency and major investments in renewable energy.
The Republican Party for decades has styled itself as the party of national defense and military strength. Yet debunking the international scientific consensus on climate change has become a veritable article of faith among Republican candidates and officeholders. That position puts the GOP squarely at odds with the military establishment, which has unequivocally accepted the scientific conclusions of the 97 percent of the world's climatologists who actually conduct research on climate and publish in journals reviewed by their peers.
This past November, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board released its own study, "Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security." The study asserts that "climate impacts are observable, measurable, real, and having near and long-term consequences." Failure to anticipate and mitigate these changes, the report argues, "increases the threat of more failed states with the instabilities and potential for conflict inherent in such failures."
Climate change, the Defense Science Board warns bluntly, already is occurring and is destined only to grow as a security concern for the United States. And the longer we (and the GOP's skeptics and deniers) delay acting, the worse it will be for all of us, everywhere.