Energy & Environment

National and environmental security, two sides of same coin

To protect the environment is to protect ourselves. This simple fact is reflected in the president’s recently released 2015 “National Security Strategy” and backed up by spending priorities in the proposed federal budget.

{mosads}Climate change. Global infectious disease outbreaks. Major energy market disruptions. Global economic crisis. Most of us are familiar with the direct and indirect consequences of these risks, such as rising sea levels, increased frequency of severe weather events and global pandemics that take human lives. In fact, the 2015 “National Security Strategy” calls out climate change specifically as an urgent and growing threat contributing to natural disasters, conflicts over basic resources, and refugee movements. A recent Pentagon report backed up this growing threat to national security. Climate change is no longer an “environmental” issue, but one that will affect all aspects of life to one degree or another.

Climate change is particularly insidious because it often acts as a threat multiplier, interacting with other factors like disease, food security, water security and poverty. Consider these relationships: By increasing the likelihood of extreme events like heavy rainfall and drought, climate change can increase the intensity of disease outbreaks. For example, when drought or flooding reduces access to food or clean water, people will be more physically stressed and therefore more vulnerable to disease. In these cases, outbreaks can swiftly turn into pandemics that rapidly spread across populations and countries, threatening global health and global economies. By impairing water supply needed for hydropower generation or causing cooling problems in power plants, climate change can create problems in energy and power sectors.

Climate change can even promote conflict, violence and terrorism. According to a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, the likelihood of social and political destabilization, conflict and mass migration all increase with climate-related hazards.

The Obama administration is not the first to recognize the link between national security and climate change. A national intelligence assessment produced under the George W. Bush administration also found that climate change “will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years.”

As explained by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in his speech “Empowering Defense through Energy Security“:

The scarcity of and potential competition for resources like water, food and space, complicated by an influx of refugees if coastal lands are lost, does not only create a humanitarian crisis but creates conditions of hopelessness that could lead to failed states and make populations vulnerable to radicalization. These challenges highlight the systemic implications and multiple-order effects inherent in energy security and climate change.

If we aspire to reduce those top risks articulated in our National Security Strategy, we need to invest in environmental protection, generally, and to address climate change, specifically. The president takes a step towards this in his recently proposed budget, which includes over $10 billion for programs across agencies to both help reduce climate change and to adapt to the effects.

Funding will reduce carbon emissions, grow investment in clean energy and climate science, build partnerships with local communities to increase climate resilience, and support our role as a global leader on climate change. The president’s proposal also calls to reform the tax structure for energy companies, removing billions in incentives and redirecting resources toward renewable energy companies.

While potentially costly in the short term, these proactive approaches are likely to pay off over the long haul. What’s more, recent polling shows that government action to address climate change is supported by an overwhelming majority of the American public — including half of Republicans.

Climate change is no longer an “environmental” issue. One of the most important things we can do to meet our national security objectives and advance political stability, human health, economic development and peace around the world is to recognize — and act in ways reflecting this — that a healthy planet is a critical part of the policy equation.

Rodewald is director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, faculty fellow at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, an associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University and a Robert F. Schumann Faculty Fellow. Views expressed in her column are hers alone and do not represent those of these institutions.

Tags Climate change Global warming Mike Mullen National Security Strategy

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