Time to Address the National Security Threat that is Climate Change

MAggie Cavanuagh

The inherent flaw in the climate change conversation lies in where we place the stakes. While bees, trees and turtles are all essential to our ecosystems, it can be difficult for these causes to attract attention from the general public because of the sheer quantity of important tasks that we contend with daily. However, climate change presents a systematic threat of a nature that cannot be combated by simply recycling our empty Holy Grounds cups. 

Climate change is a threat to American national security, and to the safety of our people. The concept of climate change as a national security threat is not a new one; the US Naval War College has been studying the effects of climate change on global conflict for almost 40 years and their results are clear. (Research & Wargaming, USNWC). Climate change is recognized as a “threat multiplier,” or an unpredictable factor that can create additional difficult circumstances for US Forces. The Pentagon has even contradicted the President and listed the effects of climate change as a threat to national security (Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense, 2019). Furthermore, the United Nations lists climate change as one of the leading threats to world peace. (Climate change recognized as ‘threat multiplier’, UN). 

Generally speaking, climate change does not cause war. However, climate change causes intense drought, which leads to food shortages, which then causes social unrest, which can lead to outbreaks of violence. Climate change intensifies hurricanes that can wreck havoc on our cities through flooding and power outages, creating unsafe environments to live in and work.  Melting Arctic Ice creates new shipping lanes that would leave Northern Alaska vulnerable to increased competition for resources by global powers. According to The Worldwide Threat Assessment, an annual report compiled by US Intelligence Agencies, “global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress and social discontent through 2019 and beyond” (US Intelligence Community, Worldwide Threat Assessment, 2019).

The understanding of what is at stake when we talk about climate change needs to shift for these threats to be addressed.