I joined the military so I could serve my country and defend the values that define the American way of life. Active leadership of the United States on the world stage has proven essential to solving the great global challenges of the past.
As a nation, we have proved time and time again our ability to act outside of narrow self-interest in order to confront threats to global security, restore peace, and preserve equal opportunity for all.
In the last century, the greatest generation halted expanding tyranny during World War II. In the wake of the destruction following that epic conflict, the United States rebuilt a world grounded in the principles of freedom and democracy. In doing so, the men and women of our grandparents’ generation understood that America’s strength and security is inextricably intertwined with the fate of all nations.
However, as President Barack Obama noted in his recent address to the graduating class of West Point, the world is changing at an accelerating pace. While technology and information brings us closer together as a global community, our strength and security is challenged by new threats that transcend national borders.
The need for American leadership to confront these new challenges has never been more pressing. Today, we face a creeping threat that has the potential to undermine all of our efforts towards global security: climate change.
Climate change is the silent enemy in the defining challenge of this century to defend the world’s most vulnerable populations from extremism. The effects of climate change take many forms, among them rising sea levels, resource scarcity, and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, storms and floods.
These environmental shifts are exacerbating every struggle for security, reducing economic opportunity and accelerating instability from the Middle East to Africa to the Pacific Rim. These changes will test the strength of government institutions and the will of the international community to protect those populations that are most vulnerable to destabilization.
During my deployments, I saw firsthand the violence and chaos that occurs when some of the most impoverished places in the world are destabilized by conflict. The strong prey upon the weak. Civil society breaks down, replaced by extremism. Nations break into tribes, and tribes turn upon each other. The most vulnerable inevitably bear the brunt of the conflict.
Extremism naturally finds a foothold where environmental stressors and weak governance have already created a vacuum of power. All too often, this void is filled by non-state actors who provide basic services in exchange for promoting ideologies that spread chaos and violence. And if we as a country have learned anything over the past fifteen years, it is that events halfway around the globe have a direct impact on our security at home.
It is undeniable that climate change puts the future of global stability and strength of democratic institutions at risk. These impacts exacerbate challenges to the values America has worked hard to promote around the world, and we must act to counter them.
This is why the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is so critical: The fight begins with a robust strategy to curb emissions here at home. America’s leadership is critical to inspiring the efforts of other global players.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.