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Take it from the military: Climate security is national security

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President Trump has insisted that national security is his top priority, repeatedly pledging to protect Americans and equip our military to be the most effective in the world. However, Trump’s failure to act decisively on climate change puts Americans at more risk than ever before.

Having spent over 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I’m acutely aware that climate security is national security, a fact recognized by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Since 2010, the Department of Defense has released dozens of reports confirming the urgent threat of climate change to our national security.

{mosads}That’s because our military leaders, responsible for protecting Americans, don’t have the luxury of ignoring reality to score political points. They correctly recognize that climate change threatens vital American infrastructure, hampers our military’s readiness, accelerates instability across the globe, and puts American lives at risk.


Extreme weather, including storms, droughts, floods, and heat waves, are intensified by climate change. We’re already seeing more intense and destructive extreme weather events like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Irma shattered a record by maintaining Category 5 strength for 37 hours, and Harvey set a new tropical rainfall record with just over 60 inches in Texas. 

Three separate studies have found that climate change made Harvey’s rainfall up to 37 percent worse and more likely to occur. If we fail to act, these events will only become more destructive.

America’s military bases, both at home and abroad, are directly threatened by more frequent and intense extreme weather events. The Department of Defense reported that more than 30 U.S. military installations currently face elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. Virginia’s Norfolk Naval Base — the largest naval station in the world — already floods 10 times a year, and rising sea levels fueled by climate change will dramatically worsen this chronic flooding.

Climate change also threatens global security. Droughts, floods, and other natural disasters undermine already-fragile governments where the United States has vital security interests — and American troops on the ground — from the Middle East to Asia.

These conditions create and exacerbate resource shortages and aggravate social and political tensions, fostering avenues for extremist ideologies and political instability to take hold. By failing to act on climate, we are creating a less stable, less secure international system and potentially putting U.S. troops and civilians in harm’s way.

Our military is unparalleled in its ability to adapt. However, no matter how much we prepare, our leaders must take active steps to combat climate change.

Today, Trump is ignoring science and national security to roll back measures that address the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. By proposing to roll back the lifesaving Clean Power Plan and by pushing for dirtier, less efficient vehicles that would pump more carbon pollution into our air they are pushing an anti-security agenda that puts American lives at risk. 

At a recent conference, a Defense Department official said “Secretary Mattis believes in climate change and the risk to national security… [one] we need to integrate in day-to-day decision-making.” The American military has spoken: We must do everything we can to protect Americans from the deadly and destructive consequences of climate change.

We must do right by our service members by taking this threat to our national security seriously. To do so, we need policies that are guided by science and that put American lives ahead of special interests. 

Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney is a retired Marines Corps brigadier general and the Chief Executive Officer of the American Security Project (ASP), a nonpartisan national security think tank. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps for over 30 years.

Tags Climate change Donald Trump Environment
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