Forget the bipartisan grandstanding and that it’s been an environmental cause. What two retired military experts wanted people to know about climate change is that it’s a legitimate threat to national security.
Retired Marine Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, chief executive officer of American Security Project, and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Arlen “Dirk” Jameson made LSU the latest stop Wednesday on their two-year tour of the country. At each stop, their goal is to raise awareness of how climate change will impact the military, whether it’s responding to natural disasters or responding to conflicts caused by scarce resources.
“The majority (of people) feel there’s not a connection or don’t perceive there’s one,” Cheney said.
As populations are displaced by drought, excessive rain or coastal flooding, conflicts can arise as they move into new areas that are already occupied.
Also, as stronger storms or more severe weather affect areas around the world and in the U.S., oftentimes it’s the military that responds. Then there’s the issue of the melting Arctic, which remains ice-free long enough now that it’s becoming a new shipping lane.
“Climate change is causing all that to melt, and we have a pretty vested interest in that,” Cheney said.
Nevertheless, many people still don’t see climate change as a national security issue, he said.
When the American Security Project was formed about 10 years ago, Cheney said, the intent was to look at issues that could impact national security that might not fit into the way people usually think about it. Among the top of that list was climate change, he said.
Jameson said he got involved because the military likes to get ahead of issues that might crop up, and climate change is one issue that has been recognized as a potential threat.
“When you think that changing weather patterns can cause strife,” Jameson said, “what is the military but dealing with strife or disaster?”
A number of years ago, Jameson said, he was talking with some people at the Pentagon examining future national security scenarios.
“They were worried about this because of emerging resource constraints because of climate change,” he said.
The bottom line, Cheney said, is what to do about the issue, and the answer is to find ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, primarily from burning of fossil fuels.
Within the military, one of the larger consumers of energy, there has been a lot of work in diversifying energy sources through solar, biofuels and other methods, Jameson said. The diversity works not only to reduce greenhouse gas releases, but also makes available reliable power supplies when the military has to go into areas that may not have the resources they need.
Then there’s the issue of military bases in the United States and around the world that are at risk because of sea level rise.
“On Capital Hill, he said, some elected officials say they understand the issue, but because of their constituents’ attitudes and how political the issue has become, there’s little they can do.
That’s part of the reason the American Security Project is taking the message on the road, they said.
“We can’t just do nothing,” Cheney said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.