Climate change is a global security threat

Severe drought. Record heat waves. Extreme storms. Food and water shortages. Mass migrations. These are but a few of the dangerous effects of climate change, and they have very real implications for those whose primary mission it is to protect our national security.  

As a former Navy gunnery officer who served in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War, I was trained to act in the face of a threat. As a solutions-focused institution, the U.S. military is renowned for confronting new security challenges head on – and today we, as a nation and as a military, face one of the biggest national security threats in our history.  Climate change is a global security threat that cannot be confined to national borders; it will require an entire generation answering a call to action to address this threat. 

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That’s why I was proud to advocate for our national security at a hearing at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where I testified in support of a proposed new rule to limit emissions carbon emissions for new power plants.  The proposed rule would impose pollution caps on the largest source of harmful greenhouse gas emissions in the country. The process for implementation of these critical standards will not come easy; however, I believe we should seize this historic opportunity to confront the global security threat of climate change.

Climate change is widely recognized as a “threat-multiplier” - with more frequent and severe weather events destabilizing some of the most dangerous regions of the world, exacerbating existing national security threats, and pushing those states with weak infrastructure and political instability to near constant crisis. According to the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review, National Intelligence Estimates and the National Security Strategy, this growing threat of global instability significantly increases the likelihood of more troops sent into harm’s way.

Additionally, climate change creates a strategic disadvantage for our military and forces our servicemen and women to divert time and resources from primary missions. In a high-profile interview with the Boston Globe in 2013, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, the combatant commander of U.S. Pacific Command, was asked to identify the largest security threat facing his region - a region filled with existing high-profile security concerns like North Korea and China.  His response? Climate change.

During last year’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, more than 14,000 U.S. military personnel were activated to respond to the crisis.  Within 24 hours, Marines were on the ground ready to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The United States receives a request to respond to disasters every two weeks – a number that is likely to increase as the impacts of climate change become more acute.

Climate change also poses a threat here at home – putting our military installations and critical infrastructure at risk. We look to our military to serve as first responders to communities impacted by extreme weather disasters. For example, a little over one year ago, 14,000 defense civilians and military personnel were mobilized to support of Federal, state, and local authorities responding to Superstorm Sandy.

We know our military will always be there to respond to threats and deliver relief to areas impacts by climate-related disasters, and our military commanders will do what it takes to protect our strategic priorities – both at home and abroad. But we must take every step, use every policy tool available to limit the number and severity of these disasters.

The military has already taken steps to reduce their carbon emissions – adopting more efficient technologies that increase operational capabilities and setting aggressive net-zero targets for military installations across the country. And with the EPA’s proposed rule, the United States has an opportunity to follow the military’s lead and take robust action necessary to combat this growing threat.

By imposing limits on power plants, the largest source of harmful carbon emissions in the country, we’re taking aggressive steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change. We’ll strengthen our national security - sending fewer of our men and women into harm’s way - and increase global stability.

The adoptions of these standards will be a bold strike against climate change, and a victory for American national security.

Cruz, a former gunnery officer in the United States Navy who deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is a spokesman for Operation Free, a clean energy campaign of the Truman National Security Project and Center for National Policy.