October 28, 2012

Bringing Climate Change Into the National Security Conversation

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This past Thursday, two former National Security Advisors, Samuel “Sandy” Berger and Stephen Hadley, discussed their experiences at a panel on “The World, the Day After.” They shared their insights into the overnight transition from being the (successful) presidential candidate to being the commander-in-chief. Despite coming from opposite sides of the partisan divide, they echoed the consensus of policy wonks that the range of difference between Republican and Democratic foreign policy agendas is actually very narrow.When asked to look ahead to next January, Hadley, who served under President George W. Bush, said that he would advise President Obama and Governor Romney to resist getting so absorbed in managing current crises as to neglect taking measures to forestall the development of future conflicts. He didn’t quite have the time to go into specifics, although I have a feeling that he wouldn’t agree with me on climate change being a top national security concern.The two candidates probably wouldn’t assent either, since climate change didn’t come up once in any of the four debates. Oil, gas and “clean” coal made it in; the failure of Solyndra was mentioned; but, climate change — the most pressing issue facing the world, this nation and our generation — wasn’t deemed a hot enough topic to be addressed. According to polls from last month, two-thirds of Americans would beg to differ.The U.S. military has, in recent years, pulled far ahead of the government in renewable energy investments, committing to incorporate solar, wind, biomass and geothermal power into its energy profile by 2025. In 2010, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review described global warming as a destabilizing force. The Department of Defense didn’t quite consider it a cause of conflict yet but rather a catalyst of conflict.Resource wars are certainly not a historical novelty, but climate change’s interference in the harnessing or cultivating of resources will create a pressure cooker for conflicts over food, water and energy. In a discussion on genocide prevention with foreign policy experts and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder testified that the world had entered a time of ecological panic, the reactions to which will lead to mass killings in the coming decades. By 2030, the National Intelligence Council, a government agency, predicts that nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas of severe water stress. Unfortunately, if climate predictions have been any indication, projections — especially government-sanctioned ones — are usually far too conservative to allow for effective policies.At home, we are hardly immune to resource-related security vulnerabilities. As the student body prays for Sandy’s projected trajectory to deliver a hurrication (but its actual path to cause minimal damage), oil executives in the South are probably breathing a sigh of relief that there isn’t a hurricane in the Gulf threatening drilling and refinery operations. The growing number of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and flooding, have incurred industry and government staggering costs in lost operation time and recovery efforts.This summer’s drought and record-breaking heat wave decimated the Midwest corn crop and left farmers and policymakers, both domestic and international, with a range of problems: food security, loss of profit and impact on the various industries dependent on corn.There is an additional way in which national security and climate change needs to be considered. As resources have become depleted due to increased consumption and population growth, nations are frantically scouring the globe to secure access to energy, minerals and land. China, a country that the U.S. has a sensitive relationship with, has vied for Canadian tar sands oil, expressed interest in developing Greenland’s rare earth metals and acquired agricultural land leases in Africa.In all these cases, the resource bidding war privileges countries with political or economic advantages and deprives the people living in countries with resources to exploit. The conflicts that are going to spring up will either force the U.S. to consider an intervention or directly pit the U.S. against another world power. European countries have already joined forces to leverage their long-term diplomatic relationship with Greenland in pursuing drilling and mining permits.The Department of Defense and State Department have shown an increasing awareness of the myriad ways in which climate change endangers both domestic efforts to build resource capacity and foreign relations with countries that are competing for resources or relying on U.S. support. Extreme weather and resource strains compel immediate action, but the prolonged and increasingly severe effects of climate change necessitate long-term planning. Candidates do not excel in thinking beyond the four-year election cycle, but the person who is sitting in the President’s chair the next four years will cease to be a candidate the day after the election (at least temporarily). Americans cannot afford to allow him to remain silent on climate change.

Jing Jin is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jingjin@cornellsun.com. Ringing True appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Jing Jin