Why Climate Change Is a Threat to Our National Security

Sunday, 29 November 2015 - 12:24PM
Sunday, 29 November 2015 - 12:24PM
Why Climate Change Is a Threat to Our National Security
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As we near the Paris climate change talks beginning on November 30th, it is important to keep in mind that climate change is not just a threat to polar bear habitats, but also a threat to national security.

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, claims that climate impacts can lead to displacement, animosity, internal conflict, and instability, as natural disasters brought about by climate change - such as the recent droughts and wildfires in California - can destroy homes and disrupt communities, leading to volatile conditions in less stable parts of the world.

Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley agreed, stating that "the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that effected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis, and created the… conditions of extreme poverty" contributing to the instability in Syria that sparked civil war and the rise of ISIS.

Though directors of the Center for Climate Change and Security contended that climate change cannot be cited as a sole cause in a complex situation, the drought, caused by climate change, coupled with mismanagement of natural resources by the Syrian government that led to political unrest, was one of the factors that led to the instability on which ISIS has thrived. 

And O'Malley is not the only person linking climate change to national security threats. 

Bernie Sanders has cited climate change as the greatest threat to national security, claiming that "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism," and that tensions over limited amounts of water and negative impacts on farming could lead to international conflicts. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, agrees that these factors can "exacerbate humanitarian crises and instability risks." Secretary of State John Kerry warns that climate change cannot be viewed as a purely environmental issue, but that the resulting environmental trauma can lead to social and political disruptions caused by crop failures, water shortages, famines, epidemics, destruction of infrastructure, and mass movement of refugees. He also points to climate change as the cause of the drought in Nigeria which, when combined with the government's inability to cope with the disaster, led to the political and economic unrest that paved the way for the rise of the terrorist group Boko Haram.  

Though conservative critics and climate change-deniers have hindered the ability of the United States government to pass comprehensive climate legislation that might curb our impact on global warming, the Paris talks could be a turning point in international cooperation on recognizing and combatting the threat of climate change. According to Kerry:

Opening quote
"The kind of agreement that we're working toward will prove that the world's leaders finally understand the scope of the challenge we are up against… And it will help officials at every level of government know that they are part of a worldwide commitment to build sustainable economics. And most important, it will put us all on a path toward a cleaner, healthier, and – yes- safer and more secure future."
Closing quote
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