The US needs to warm to climate realities

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As we enter the new year, there many reasons why national elected officials, including presidential hopefuls, should heed the concerns of the global community regarding climate change.

First, of course, is the accord coming from the Paris Climate Conference. The provisions of the Paris Agreement, described by many world leaders and news outlets as historic, may lay the foundation for limiting additional damage to the environment — and may offer island nations such as the Maldives an outside chance at survival.

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Second, in large due to the provisions of the Paris Agreement, domestic politics increasingly is the focus of climate change. According to Michael Levi, "the reality is that the big barriers to action on climate are mostly domestic; they're domestic policy, they're domestic implementation." When the politics is reduced to having snowballs thrown around the floor of the Senate, one wonders if there is a snowball's chance in Congress of having necessary, intelligent, fact-based policy debates in the House or Senate. Interestingly, as the debate devolves from the national level to the state and local levels, a schism has formed between the lower levels of government. Several major cities recently have acted contrary to their states' governments in their support of the Obama administration's efforts to cut greenhouse emissions. For example, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), the current chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which has filed an amicus brief in support of Obama's Clean Power Plan, says that "America's mayors have called on the nations of the world to act on climate change for over a decade, recognizing the threat that climate changes presents to our safety and security, regardless of where we live."

Finally, the military, necessarily, is concerned about the impact of climate change on its mission, and the potential impact that climate will have on the ability to meet the mission. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff, has noted that "People are saying they want to be perfectly convinced about climate science projections. ... But speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield." As the climate has changed, there has been much effect in places like the Arctic. Economically, Canada has become the third largest exporter of diamonds in the world. Greenland's ice melt has greatly altered its economy in only a few years. Oil companies, which have long known about the dangers of fossil fuel use on the climate, seek new fortunes in the reserves in the Arctic, devoting millions of dollars to research and resources in the area.

Perhaps more importantly, Russia has become much more active in the region. For example, in March 2015, the Russians held a "massive military exercise" in the Arctic. The U.S., however, is woefully behind Russia's interests and activities in the region. It is imperative that the U.S. national leaders take climate change as seriously as the private sector and our global adversaries do.

Gibson is an associate professor of political science at Westminster College in Missouri and a National Security Network (NSN) fellow. The views expressed here are not necessarily the views of NSN.

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