Standing at a Crossroads: Climate Change and the National Security Threat

On December 4th, 2007, I stood among a crowd of uniformed US Army officers, and watched as my fellow West Virginian and West Point classmate Ben Tiffner was lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery. Ben was killed in action a month earlier, in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on his Humvee in Iraq. As my friends and I left the cemetery, we reflected on Ben’s life as well as on the lives of too many other soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion for our great Nation.

If you haven’t been to see one of our national cemeteries, you need to. The endless rows of white headstones open up into a new section, constantly growing, devoted to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in today’s War on Terror. Remembering my own time in Iraq leading an infantry mortar platoon, and the dangers we struggled through, I know our military fights a long, difficult war. And due to our addiction to cheap fossil fuels, the long war is going to get longer. This is why I choose to fight a better fight, here at home, for cheap, clean energy independence. Our national security depends on it. The lives of soldiers such as Ben’s depend on it. And the lives of our children depend on it. For these reasons we, the people need the US Congress to pass strong energy and national security legislation this year.

To be sure, I know the American economy is today powered predominately by fossil fuels. I also know that many people dispute the truthfulness behind the science of climate change.  However, I do not write this as a climate scientist.   I write today based on my own experience as a United States soldier. On the battlefield, a soldier doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for 100% certainty before acting. Too often, waiting for certainty results in bad situations getting progressively worse and soldiers dying unnecessarily. We must act when we are sure enough, and the benefits of action outweigh the costs of inaction.

Climate change offers us a similar situation. Despite the dressing down the IPCC has received for sloppily handling some of its business, the reality is that the problems that have been raised do not appear to be systemic, and do not diminish the power of the thousands of scientific papers that support the consensus view.  In fact, the world’s top scientific minds agree with 95% certainty that climate change is going to drastically alter the way we live, and that much of climate change is man-made. I’d take that bet any day of the week, especially when my soldiers’ lives are on the line.

Which takes me back to my main point. Assume dry parts of the world dry up even more, and wars over precious drinking water become even more prevalent. Slight sea level increases force the coastal populations of the world’s poorest regions to flee as climate refugees. Instability opens up more holes for extremists preaching anti-American terror to step in and take control. Who is going to have to respond to these threats? China? India? No! We will: American fighting men and women. It is the American soldier who will bear the brunt of inaction. And that will cost us dearly.

We stand at a crossroads. We can choose to do nothing, and be confident that other brave Americans such as Ben Tiffner will see their way into our most hallowed of grounds, all because we could not summon the courage to act when needed. Or, we can make an investment in our future today, and reap the benefits for decades to come.

The time for investment is now. The US Senate is set to soon begin consideration of a new bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Kerry (D-MA), Lieberman (I-CT), and Graham (R-SC) that can and will offer just the added incentives we need to avert the worst of climate change. And just as importantly, it is going to keep our fighting men and women safer, and our great Nation more secure. We cannot let these benefits pass us by.

Over the course of several posts, I plan on providing more detail on the nature of the security threat we are facing, what our military and defense apparatus is already doing to deal with the threat, and how we as a nation can adapt and overcome this great challenge of our time.

Photo: nestorgalina

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