For planet and country: National security's climate moment

It is no overstatement that the greatest threat facing America’s national security and the world at large is climate change. Denials of science and fossil fuel industry obfuscations seem to be fading from relevance as more Americans now see the reality of climate change impact their day to day lives. 

But we still have a long way to go in holding our elected officials accountable for the risks climate change presents to our health, safety, economy, and quality of life.

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This morning, former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryConservatives rip FBI over IG report: 'scathing indictment' Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill Mellman: Looking to Iowa MORE and former Secretary of Defense Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAlmost 100 former officials, members of Congress urge Senate action on election security GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm MORE testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on the national security implications of climate change. 

This testimony comes at a time of great concern for the national security community. A stockpile of security assessments and reports all support the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a critical national security threat. The CNA Military Advisory board — an elite group of retired three- and four-star flag and general officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps — has released a series of reports over the last decade pinpointing climate change as a major national security risk and necessary priority. These assessments were echoed by the Department of Defense. 

We should trust these experts and take their recommendations seriously. However, recent reports indicate that the White House will establish a Presidential Committee on Climate Change, purportedly with the intent of undermining the assessments of the president’s own intelligence community.

It should be of great concern that the current administration has promoted the opinions of William Happer, the appointed Climate Security Committee leader and a former fossil fuels lobbyist, who worked to promote carbon dioxide pollution, of all things. In other words, the national security risk assessments of respected military and intelligence officials are being zealously undercut by Happer with the full support of the commander-in-chief.

As combat veterans, we take risk assessments seriously. When you’re at war, you are constantly watching, planning for and adapting to risks. In military lingo, climate change is known as a “threat multiplier.” 

This means that while climate change may not necessarily spark wars, it can certainly create the conditions under which wars begin. In regions that are already unstable, the extreme weather events associated with climate change can further fracture civil society as crops fail, livestock dies, water becomes scarce or coastal communities are forced to escape the rising tides. 

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The military correctly understands and stresses the connection between critical infrastructure and climate change and planned to mitigate these risks with the construction funds that the president is now planning to reallocate to the border wall following his national emergency declaration. And efforts like the one led by Happer are an attempt to sow doubt where none exists. This will not only set back our military readiness, but ultimately will threaten the safety of our men and women in uniform.

To be clear: that is unacceptable. As soldiers, we defended our nation overseas. Now, as veterans, it’s our responsibility to continue to do so here at home. The challenge we face is great, but our courage and capabilities are greater. We cannot allow brash political maneuvering to threaten the security of our nation and the safety of our troops.

Jon Powers is co-founder of CleanCapital. An Iraq War veteran, Powers served as the federal chief sustainability officer for the White House and special advisor on energy to the U.S. Army.

Kevin Johnson is president of GlidePath Federal Solutions and a board member of the American Resilience Project and Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI). Johnson is an Iraq War veteran and a recipient of the White House Champions of Change award.