Should Climate Change Be a National Security Priority?

Climate change should not be a national security priority. Directing the Pentagon to focus on it will actually make America less secure. Generals know how to fight and win wars. They know little about nation building and even less about “sustainable development.” Compelling the Department of Defense (DOD) to incorporate climate assessments and strategies in scores of programs, as the Obama administration did, can only promote groupthink, wasteful mission creep and inattention to bona fide security threats.

Climate change would indeed be a security issue if, as is often claimed, it were an existential threat. However, the latest U.N. climate report poured cold water on global warming doomsday scenarios. In the 21st century, Atlantic Ocean circulation collapse is “very unlikely,” ice sheet crackup is “exceptionally unlikely” and catastrophic release of methane from melting permafrost is “very unlikely.”

The Obama DOD defined climate change as a “threat multiplier,” exacerbating conditions like poverty and political stability that “enable” terrorism and violence. However, the research linking climate change to conflict is highly dubious. For example, warming will supposedly exacerbate drought, leading to “water wars.” However, studies repeatedly find that water scarcity promotes cooperation rather than conflict.

Climate campaigners have long sought military leaders as spokespersons, hoping to split conservatives on energy policy. But preaching climate peril and carbon taxes would ill-serve both DOD and U.S. national security.

President Trump seeks to secure an era of U.S. “energy dominance” as part of a strategy to achieve 3 percent annual GDP growth. A return to carbon-suppression policies would chill growth, forcing painful tradeoffs between guns and butter.

As an analysis by the Institute for 21st Century Energy shows, if we assume the validity of “consensus” climatology, the world cannot achieve the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius unless developing countries dramatically reduce their current consumption of fossil fuels. Yet more than 1 billion people in those countries have no access to electricity and billions more have too little to support development.

Putting energy-poor people on an energy diet would be a cure worse than the alleged disease. It would not promote stability or peace.

Originally published in the September 22, 2017 issue of CQ Researcher.