Trump Should Address Climate Instability as National Security Threat It Is

Reports at the beginning of February that President Trump is proposing a more than 70 percent budget cut to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, within the broader context of his subsidies to the coal and nuclear industries and efforts to sabotage solar markets, should dispel any remaining illusions regarding his intentions. His decision not to honor the Paris Climate Agreement and apparent disinterest even in renegotiating it, as he said he would attempt to do, further reinforces the reality that he has decided to ally himself with retrogressive business interests against the national interest.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, representing the expert consensus and most credible authority on this issue, concluded in its most current report that “anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers…are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Moreover, “continued emission of greenhouse gases will…[increase] the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems….”

Most alarmingly, “without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence).…”

In its 2017 report, the Military Advisory Board of the non-partisan Center for Naval Analyses, comprised of 11 retired generals and admirals, warned, “the nature and pace of climate changes being observed today and the consequences projected by the consensus scientific opinion are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security…. Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.”

The report continues, “projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states.”

“Economic and environmental conditions in already fragile areas will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and large populations move in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments…foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies.”

“The U.S. and Europe may experience mounting pressure to accept large numbers of immigrant and refugee populations as drought increases and food production declines in Latin America and Africa. Extreme weather events and natural disasters…may lead to increased missions for a number of U.S. agencies, including state and local governments, the Department of Homeland Security, and our already stretched military, including our Guard and Reserve forces.”

“As President Bush noted in his 2007 State of the Union speech, dependence on foreign oil leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and terrorists, and clean domestic energy alternatives help us confront the serious challenge of global climate change….”

If the issue of concern were a terrorist or nuclear missile threat from a hostile country, would Trump and his allies in the Republican party decline to take action or deny the reality of the threat altogether? Why, then, do they do so regarding our climate instability, which has already contributed to the loss of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy in 2017 alone and will result in even greater destruction if it is not confronted?

Does the impersonality of this threat somehow make it less of a priority to mobilize the nation in defense against? Or is it the venality of a political party dominated by an American fossil fuel industry that has in some major quarters at least finally acknowledged the problem (after being aware of it for decades and funding disinformation campaigns to delay actionbut has largely yet to commit to any credible solutions.  

President Trump made the valid point that the U.S. is $20 trillion in debt and therefore cannot afford to subsidize the global economy’s transition to climate sustaining energy resources. One might note in response the irony of digging the U.S. $7.1 trillion further into debt over the next decade, as he is proposing—much of it to fund military operations in an increasingly volatile Middle East that the U.S. cannot extricate itself from without risking the implosion of a fossil fuel-dependent global economy that is quite literally overheating the planet.  

The President of the United States may have proclaimed himself a champion of the sanctity of human life, but he is nevertheless sickeningly cavalier about its future in the face of this potentially existential threat

Lead image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay

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Thomas Buonomo is the Humanist Studies Coordinator with the American Humanist Association and formerly an analyst focused on energy markets, geopolitical and country risk with an international energy consulting company. His writing has been published by the Atlantic Council, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, The Fuse, Cipher Brief, The National Interest, The Hill, Oil & Gas Investor, Renewable Energy World, and other outlets. Twitter: @thomasbuonomo

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