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October 16, 2009

Climate Change: A National Security Threat

By: Julian Carmona, intern for the Sierra Club Global Warming & Energy team

On September 14th, 2001, President George W. Bush stood on the ruins of the World Trade Center vowing to hunt down those who perpetrated the worst attack on United States soil since Pearl Harbor. President Bush presided over one of the largest expansions of domestic security measures, meant to prevent further terrorist attacks. Many will remember Bush’s presidency as one defined by a debate over how far the government could go to protect national security.

The release of an EPA report, written during the Bush administration, shows that he might have ignored a looming threat to national security: Climate Change. The report was an “endangerment finding,” published in 2007, but not released to the public. Amongst recommendations that gave government more authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded that global warming posed a serious threat to the country. It spoke of countries that were already feeling the affects of global warming, and the destabilizing affect that climate change might have. It also resembled the exact same conclusions that the Obama administration listed on their endangerment report, released in April of this year.

In 2007, the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) presented a report that connected global instability, terrorism, warfare and national security with global climate change and energy dependence. The report was written by their Military Advisors Board, which included 11 former top officials from the Marines, Air Force and Navy. More importantly, the report concluded:

Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s National Security...drought, sea level rise, retreating glaciers, habitat shifts and increased spread of life-threatening diseases...have a potential to disrupt our way of life and to force changes in the way we keep ourselves safe and secure

They recommended that the consequences of climate change be integrated into policymaking in regards to national security and defense, global security and the creation of international partnerships.

In response to the CNA report, the National Intelligence Council commissioned a report, “The National Implications of Global Climate Change Through 2030” which represented a consensus from all intelligence agencies. In an assessment of this report, the House Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming stated that climate change will have a severely destabilizing affect on other countries, which will indirectly affect U.S. commercial and national security. Competition for dwindling resources, like water and food, will lead to internal and external conflict in these countries.    

In February of this year, the Director of National Intelligence released a statement that warned of the security consequences of climate change. The statement said that climate change has the potential to exacerbate problems of poverty, social or class tension and environmental degradation, which could lead to limited access to food, water and shelter. The perception that a government cannot provide enough basic necessities to its people leads to unstable leadership, violence and terrorism.

Recently, the CIA opened the Center on Climate Change and National Security in order to study the security implications of climate change. Director Leon Panetta stated that the CIA was in the right position to provide consulting and analysis services to key decision makers in the administration on climate change and national security. Its purpose is to garner information about climate change through internal research and outreach to academics and think tanks working on this issue.

The instability caused by climate change can have devastating effects on the governance of a country. As these intelligence reports have stated, resource competition, environmental degradation and exacerbation of social, political or cultural conflicts caused by drought, sea level rise and natural disasters will be a threat to U.S. national security.


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