Twenty-two House Democrats announced Feb. 15 that they’re forming a Safe Climate Caucus. A member of the caucus will speak on the House floor about the effects of climate change every day that the chamber is in session.
Two days before, 50 people — including actress Daryl Hannah — were arrested after handcuffing themselves to the gates of the White House in a climate change protest.
And on Sunday, thousands of people bused into Washington from all over the country to march on the National Mall to urge Congress to work with the president to “start his second term with strong climate action.”
Too often, our efforts to address the dangers of climate change have been obstructed by theatrics from groups on both sides of the spectrum attempting to politicize the issue.
As a retired colonel in the U.S. Army who served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve identified and confronted national security threats my entire career. Addressing climate change is a national security imperative that will take more than a divided offensive; it requires immediate action and cooperation across the political spectrum on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
A consensus of national security and military leaders recognize climate change as a threat to our national security. As the Department of Defense reported, climate change will “act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.” Rising coastlines will create refugee crises in some of the world’s poorest countries. More frequent and extreme weather events, like the devastating flood in Pakistan in 2010 or Hurricane Sandy last year, will drain budgets and cost lives. Resource scarcity will spark conflict and raze fragile states across the globe. A lack of food and clean water will cause populations to migrate, and that is a harbinger of war.
The U.S. military will be involved in nearly every crisis precipitated or exacerbated by climate change, whether to provide disaster relief and recovery assistance at home, secure vital strategic interests abroad, or maintain international shipping lanes that are the lifeblood of global commerce. The U.S. will continue to rely on our military installations and garrisoned personnel as the first line of defense to citizens displaced by increasingly vicious storms. Every day, our armed forces grow more involved in counterterrorism activities in climate hot spots, like the battle against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Our men and women in uniform will have to bear this burden, and we must come together to lessen the weight.
America remains the world’s most powerful nation because our singular commitment to innovation has never wavered. The U.S. military is bringing that commitment to the front lines. The Department of Defense is developing and implementing new technologies that minimize the military’s carbon “bootprint,” diversify its energy sources and reduce its demand for fossil fuels. The Air Force and Army are increasing the fuel efficiency of their thousands of combat, transport and support vehicles. The Navy is investing in advanced biofuels so it can power its ships and aircraft with fuels created and refined in America, instead of ones shipped from abroad. And Marines in Afghanistan are using compact solar technologies and developing enhanced energy storage solutions to reduce the number of fuel convoys supplying their combat outposts.
Congress — both Democrats and Republicans — and every climate advocate in America should follow the military’s lead in focusing on energy innovation. We have an opportunity to maintain our global leadership, fortify our economy and address our contribution to climate change through clean energy development. Advanced energy accounted for more than $1 trillion in revenue worldwide in 2012. But, while clean energy investment has soared in Western Europe and Asia, political partisanship has impeded our ability to tap into renewable resources here at home. As President Barack Obama said in his second inaugural address, “we cannot cede to other countries the technology that will power new jobs and new industry — we must claim its promise.”
Seizing the opportunity to strengthen our national and economic security will require serious, rational and urgent discussion. Obama brought climate change back into the national spotlight in his inaugural address and State of the Union. Now it’s time for Congress to work with the president to get the job done. Together with one voice, we must ensure that our future security and prosperity transcend the politics of the moment. Our military leaders understand how to put differences aside to get the job done. Our leaders in Washington must meet the standard they set.
Col. Dan Nolan, retired from the U.S. Army, is the author of the DOD Energy Blog and a spokesman for the clean energy campaign, Operation Free.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.