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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

President Obama Says Global Warming Harms U. S. National Security

President Barack Obama addressed the graduating class at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20, 2015.  A major theme in his remarks was that the worldwide effects of global warming negatively impact the security of the United States in its military preparedness and military operations.

The President unambiguously embraced the conclusions of the worldwide community of climate scientists that “climate change is happening….[t]the science is indisputable….The planet is getting warmer”.  He stated that humanity’s burning of fossil fuels to produce carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, is a major contributing factor to this problem. 

As an example of its effects, the President cited the melting of polar ice and the resulting rise in sea levels worldwide.  By the end of this century, he said, the sea level could rise an additional one to four feet (between 0.31 and 1.2 m).  He pointed out “…the threat of a changing climate cuts to the very core of [the Coast Guard Cadets’] service.…[C]limate change is one of [the] most severe threats” that they will face.

Military Leaders Agree.  The President pointed out that military leaders in the various branches of the American armed forces agree on the reality of climate change.  He stated “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security.  And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.  And so we need to act -- and we need to act now.   Denying [climate change], or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security.  It undermines the readiness of our forces.”

The President summarized recent instances of “instability and conflict” around the world, made worse by climate change, that affect the national security of the U. S.  Rising seas impinge on lowlands around the world, “forcing people from their homes”.    In other locations aridity and drought will lead to food and water shortages, causing additional migration.  This and other factors are expected to cause an increase in climate change refugees, leading to conflicts as populations migrate in attempts to find sustenance elsewhere. 

The President stated

“we … know … that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram.  It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.  So, increasingly, our military … will need to factor climate change into plans and operations, because you need to be ready.”

A Threat Multiplier.  Because these damaging effects of climate change are already happening and are foreseen only to become worse with time, the Department of Defense calls this issue a “threat multiplier”.  The President pointed out that climate change, and especially the effects of rising sea levels, threaten “our homeland security, our economic infrastructure, the safety and health of the American people.”  Already in Miami, Norfolk and Charleston fair weather flooding occurs routinely at high tide.  The Norfolk flooding already impacts the major naval base there.  Sea level in New York is about 1 foot higher than 100 years ago, which undoubtedly contributed to the flooding experienced from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Reducing Emissions.  The U. S. is already committing hundreds of billions of dollars to remedy damages incurred from these past events and to defend against potential harms that may occur in the future.  But President Obama pointed out that it is critical to lower future emissions of greenhouse gases to minimize future harms.  He summarized the steps his administration has already put in place to promote these goals: making homes more energy efficient, doubling the fuel efficiency of the nation’s autos, and enhancing the efficiency of electricity generation.

International Leadership.  Most significantly, President Obama is committed to having the U. S. serve as a leader to other nations of the world to reduce annual rates of greenhouse gas emissions.  He overtly admits that the political landscape for achieving progress in this regard within the U. S. is fraught with difficulty.  Furthermore, he understands the challenges involved internationally: “working with other nations, we have to achieve a strong global agreement this year to start reducing the total global emission -- because every nation must do its part.  Every nation.”

The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate, a summary of findings of several federal departments, was issued by President Obama’s White House in May 2015.  The underlying reports include the Third National Climate Assessment, the White House’s 2015 National Security Strategy, the Department of Defense’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Department of Homeland Security’s 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.

The summary points out that the worsening effects of climate change impact both domestic U. S. security and global security.  Importantly, on the domestic front, coastal installations will be seriously impacted by rising sea level and by extreme events such as hurricanes and coastal flooding involving storm surges.  Highly populated urban areas are vulnerable to damages such as temporary and/or permanent flooding of major infrastructure facilities, as happened, for example, during Superstorm Sandy.  Federal emergency responses to Sandy involved the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard and other units from the Department of Defense.  More extended responses involved rebuilding programs from many agencies.  

In the American West, extended drought and long-term extremes of heat affect water resources, agriculture and wildfire numbers and severity.  This affects military bases and training of troops.  Opening of Arctic waters to navigation as ice cover diminishes adds responsibilities for the Coast Guard and the Navy.

Our national security is also impacted by the effects of global warming internationally.  Our geopolitical situation could be threatened as global warming affects access to resources and security of international trade.  Military operations are always affected by climate and weather.  Extremes will lead to more difficult environments for operation of equipment and the endurance and effectiveness of our forces.

Warmer temperatures will lead to greater aridity in many regions of the world, imposing new pressures on availability of water, agricultural productivity and potential scarcity of food.  This could lead to higher poverty, political instability and social insecurity, all conditions that increase the risk of conflict to which our defense forces might have to respond.  For example, these factors likely contributed to the instability that led to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.  Warming is leading the Department of Defense to rely more strongly on renewable energy sources in its operations as a hedge against geopolitical insecurity and potential constraints on availability of fossil fuels.
President Obama rightly emphasizes the importance of man-made climate change as a major process under way that requires federal action to combat its progress and overcome its effects.  This post discusses its role in military planning and operations.

Global warming is disrupting long-term climate and weather patterns on an abrupt time scale and in extreme ways.  In considering droughts and floods, sea level rise and wildfires, global warming affects military operations within the U. S. and around the world.  Changing environmental conditions affect military training by placing new stresses on the operation and maintenance of equipment and on the physiological resilience of our troops.  New climatic stresses bring about new changes in the overall geopolitical landscape that impact the security interests of the U. S. in ways that place new and unconventional demands on our armed forces.

As with other aspects of humanity’s response to global warming, choices here too balance a) responding minimally at present, for example to keep expenditures low, incurring the need for more intense, expensive responses later, with b) a recognition that significant investment now will minimize the need for major expenditures later.  The better part of wisdom is to recognize the military’s needs in their efforts to prepare for the new climate-induced challenges they face, and so to grant them the resources they need to prepare for the future. 

Similar reasoning can be brought to bear on America’s response overall to the crisis of global warming.  Early action at the federal level is needed to address this important issue directly, and to maintain America’s leadership role in dealing with global warming.

© 2015 Henry Auer

1 comment:

  1. Your valuable blog aware us from the side effect of global warming.

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