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Fifteen Military Leaders Say Climate Change Is a National Security Threat

Climate

Media Matters for America

By Jill Fitzsimmons

Republicans in Congress are attempting to prevent the military from purchasing alternative fuels, which Senator Inhofe (R-OK) believes are merely "perpetrating President Obama's global warming fantasies and his war on affordable energy." And conservative media are backing the attacks on climate change and clean energy programs, suggesting that these investments come at the expense of national security. But experts across the political spectrum agree that climate change poses a serious threat to our national security, and that transitioning to alternative energy will enhance military effectiveness. Here are 15 current and former national security officials in their own words on the threat of climate change:

  • Thomas Fingar, former chairman of President Bush's National Intelligence Council: "We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years ... We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect U.S. national security interests."

  • Brig. General Steven Anderson, USA (Ret.), former Chief of Logistics under General Petraeus and a self-described "conservative Republican": "Our oil addiction, I believe, is our greatest threat to our national security. Not just foreign oil but oil in general. Because I believe that in CO2 emissions and climate change and the instability that that all drives, I think that that increases the likelihood there will be conflicts in which American soldiers are going to have to fight and die somewhere."

  • Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense: "[T]he area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security: rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

  • Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense: "Over the next 20 years and more, certain pressures-population, energy, climate, economic, environmental-could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability."

  • General Gordon Sullivan, USA (Ret.), former Army chief of staff: "Climate change is a national security issue. We found that climate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world."

  • Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.): "If the destabilizing effects of climate change go unchecked, we can expect more frequent, widespread, and intense failed state scenarios creating large scale humanitarian disasters and higher potential for conflict and terrorism ... The Department of Defense and national intelligence communities recognize this clear link between climate change, national security, and instability and have begun strategic plans and programs to both mitigate and adapt to the most likely and serious effects in key areas around the globe."

  • General Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret.), former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command and special envoy to Israel and Palestine under President George W. Bush: "It's not hard to make the connection between climate change and instability, or climate change and terrorism."

  • Admiral Joseph Lopez, USN (Ret.): "Climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror."

  • General Chuck Wald, USAF (Ret.), former Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command under President George W. Bush: "People can say what they want to about whether they think climate change is manmade or not, but there's a problem there and the military is going to be a part of the solution. It's a national security issue because it affects the stability of certain places in the world."

  • Brig. General Bob Barnes, USA (Ret.): "While most people associate global warming with droughts, rising sea levels, declining food production, species extinction and habitat destruction, fewer connect these impacts to increasing instability around the globe and the resulting threats to our national security. But the connection—and the threat it poses—is real and growing."

  • Vice Admiral Richard Truly, USN (Ret.), former NASA administrator: "The stresses that climate change will put on our national security will be different than any we've dealt with in the past."

  • General Paul Kern, USA (Ret.), Commander of the United States Army Materiel Command under President George W. Bush: "Military planning should view climate change as a threat to the balance of energy access, water supplies, and a healthy environment, and it should require a response.'

  • Lt. General Lawrence Farrell, USAF (Ret.): "The planning we do that goes into organizing, training, and equipping our military considers all the risks that we may face. And one of the risks we see right now is climate change."

  • Admiral John Nathman, USN (Ret.), former Commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command under President George W. Bush: "There are serious risks to doing nothing about climate change. We can pay now or we're going to pay a whole lot later. The U.S. has a unique opportunity to become energy independent, protect our national security and boost our economy while reducing our carbon footprint. We've been a model of success for the rest of the world in the past and now we must lead the way on climate change."

  • Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (Ret.): "The national security community is rightly worried about climate change because of the magnitude of its expected impacts around the globe, even in our own country ... Climate change poses a clear and present danger to the United States of America. But if we respond appropriately, I believe we will enhance our security, not simply by averting the worst climate change impacts, but by spurring a new energy revolution."

The Pentagon recognizes that our dependence on oil is problematic not only because of the threat of climate change, but also because of volatile oil prices and supply disruptions that can threaten the military's energy supply. Its Operational Energy Strategy states:

The volatility of oil prices will continue to be a budgetary challenge for the Department, and the realities of global oil markets mean a disruption of oil supplies is plausible and increasingly likely in the coming decades. The Services have already taken steps to certify aircraft, ships, tactical vehicles, and support equipment to use alternative liquid fuels, a prudent insurance policy against future oil supply disruptions and high prices.

The Army also notes that transporting fuel can be deadly in a warzone:

Today, fuel consists of over 50 percent of the load carried by supply convoys in Afghanistan. These convoys are especially attractive targets to adversaries, and are regularly attacked. Statistics show that the U.S. loses one Soldier for every twenty convoys through attacks consisting of improvised explosive devices and/or direct fire ambushes. There will be over 3,000 resupply convoys in 2012.

Army Secretary John McHugh recently said: "Anything we can do to take a convoy off the road is a good thing." And as Scientific American noted, renewable energy has the potential to do just that:

By employing renewable and energy-efficient technologies and practices—such as solar blankets used to recharge new instruments or batteries—soldiers and contractors cut down on resupply missions and also lighten their loads on patrols and at bases. Solar modules at frontline bases have already significantly cut diesel use, reducing the number of convoy trips—and the potential for ambushes and roadside bombs.

To begin the transition away from fossil fuels, the Navy is increasing its use of biofuels and developing a "Great Green Fleet"—an aircraft carrier strike group run entirely on biofuels and other alternative fuels. Although biofuels are currently more expensive than oil, military demand will bring prices down, as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus explained to a Congressional committee.

Meanwhile, the Army and the Air Force have committed to developing a gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025. The U.S. Marine Corps is working to establish an entirely solar-powered base, and the Army is reviewing designs for portable wind turbines that could provide power in remote locations. The Army has also adopted a comprehensive approach to improve energy efficiency and reduce water consumption.

Contrary to the conservative media narrative that these investments are part of a wasteful "green agenda," military officials agree that they are essential to protecting national security. 

Thomas Hicks, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for Energy, told Scientific American that green energy programs are not about "advancing an environmental agenda." Rather, they are about "improving our combat capability, improving our mission effectiveness, and reducing our vulnerabilities to foreign sources of fossil fuel."

Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn added: "There is not a shred of political correctness in what the military is doing with energy efficiency or renewable energy. From lance corporal to general, they are on board. They live with the problems from the over-reliance on fossil fuels."

Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran, underscored this point in a Huffington Post op-ed: "[T]he military isn't on some kind of ecological mission when it comes to renewables. They're trying to help ensure men and women come home to their loved ones."

Visit EcoWatch's CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

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