President Just Signed Bill That Says Climate Change a National Security Risk, But Does He Know That?
By Angela Ledford Anderson
President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law Tuesday. The act would require the Pentagon to do a report on how military installations and overseas staff may be vulnerable to climate change over the next 20 years.
The following language was included in the act:
Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.
Does President Trump know that with a stroke of his pen he just confirmed what climate scientists and military officials have been saying for years: Climate change is a major threat to U.S. national security and our armed forces overseas?
The reality is that climate change couldn't care less about political party affiliation, which is why legislators on both sides of the aisle—especially those on the frontlines of climate change impacts—fought to retain this language in the final bill.
While this move is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak Congress, we need to do much, much more to support local and state governments in their efforts to combat climate change. And certainly more needs to be done to convince the president of the scientific truths of climate change and the importance of acting sooner rather than later on the risks it poses.
Check out a recent blog from Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell for more information on this act.
A couple things happened late last week that feel worth mentioning, to kick off this week on a hopeful note.
First, in a bit of legislative wonkery, the House of Representatives voted against an amendment that would have prevented the Department of Defense from studying how climate impacts threaten national security.
To express that in a way that doesn't double up on negatives, let's unpack it. The National Defense Authorization Act is the annual bill to fund the Department of Defense. This is considered a "must-pass" bill so everyone tries to slip in amendments, hoping that the bill's size and scope means they pass without notice.
One of these amendments, proposed by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa), would have cut funding for a DoD study of how climate change will impact national security over the next 20 years. The military is already dealing with climate change, so it's prudent that they are able to study what sorts of impacts are coming down the line.
Perry argued that there are plenty of other agencies looking at climate change, so the military shouldn't. But in a relatively impressive display of intelligence, 46 Republicans joined Democrats to vote down Perry's amendment, preserving the funding for the DoD study.
That 46 Republicans were willing to side with science is impressive, and in part a function of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. This group has come under some scrutiny (perhaps rightfully so) for their general inaction and specifically failing to criticize Trump's Paris pull-out.
But now, by voting down Perry's amendment, they've done something—that's good news! In their defense, the fear of getting "Bob Inglis'd" (where a Republican takes a reasonable position on climate change then gets primaried from the right by a Koch-supported candidate), is understandable.
Bob Inglis brings us to the other flicker of light in these dark times. Buzzfeed's Zahra Hirji reported on Friday that Rep. Lamar Smith took a quiet trip to the Arctic to tour science facilities in the melting North. Yes, the same Lamar Smith who spent a year harassing climate scientist Tom Karl went to learn from climate scientists about their work. Oddly, he refused to talk about it with Buzzfeed afterward, canceling a call two minutes before it was supposed to start.
Considering that it was a trip to Antarctica that inspired Inglis's conversion to climate reality, one can hope that seeing the ice melting for himself will have a similar effect on Smith.
Either way, the Defense vote shows that the House may be moving in the right direction, if admittedly at a glacial pace. Whether or not it continues, we'll just have to wait and Larsen C.
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.