Akron Beacon Journal, Jan. 1
On Thursday, Donald Trump couldn’t resist sharing his impression of the deep freeze that has settled over the eastern part of the country. He chided, “Perhaps we could use a little bit of good old global warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against.” The charts quickly followed, scientists and others reporting that our area of the globe was the exception, the planet as a whole 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the average between 1979 and 2000.
The president missed, too, in describing the commitment of other nations. Many have been investing in clean energy sources and mitigation efforts. Many wealthier countries recognize the need to assist their poorer counterparts in responding to climate change.
Here is where American leadership is crucial, our country long a leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Yet the president hasn’t just been tweeting about his climate skepticism. Two weeks ago, the Trump White House dropped climate change from the list of global threats in its new national security strategy document. The move is more than a departure from the Obama years. It breaks from the thinking at the Defense Department going back more than a decade.
Consider that during the past year, James Mattis, the secretary of defense, has cited climate change as eroding stability in parts of the world where American troops are operating. He has echoed the counsel that climate change and its fallout should be part of Pentagon planning.
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, reflecting the work of both the Bush and Obama administrations, formally declared climate change as having an impact on national security. The 2014 version described climate change as a “threat multiplier.” This isn’t a matter of the military somehow succumbing to the pitch of environmental groups. Officers and civilian experts have made hard-headed analyses of the landscape.
Among the heightened risks are “environmental migrants,” those displaced because of such things as drought, flooding or deadly heat, many unable to return, placing strains, or worse, on neighboring countries and the international community. The drought in Syria, for instance, has been a contributor to the devastating conflict.
The Pentagon has identified water struggles as a potential source of conflict, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. It sees the need to adjust to the diminishing sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and the impact of global warming on its far-flung facilities and operations. It has been pushing for greater energy efficiency and the use of renewables or other clean alternatives.
This is what the Defense Department does: It evaluates threats to security and devises plans accordingly. That it has given climate change such priority reinforces the importance of a larger strategy, both to curb the warming and adapt. It puts in context more than the president’s lazy tweet. It reminds that in removing climate change from the national security strategy, the president set aside a consensus years in the making.