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Letter: Climate Change Is a National Security Issue

To the Editor:

Jeff Lehmann (“Other Things to Worry About,” Forum, Feb. 26) questioned why Secretary of State Kerry would focus on climate change when, he suggests, there are more important international issues — leading with Syria, Iran and Egypt.

The former commander of CENTCOM (the integrated command for all U.S. military assets in the Middle East) connected the dots between climate change and the potential for strife in the following terms: where “… a population . . . is traumatized by an event or a change in conditions triggered by climate change … you can be faced with a collapsing state. And these end up as breeding grounds for instability, for insurgencies, for warlords. You start to see real extremism. These places act like Petri dishes for extremism and for terrorist networks.”

That quote comes from a study titled “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” which was produced by the Military Advisory Board of the CNA Corporation, an independent Washington think tank. The board was led by the former chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and included the former commander in chief of the Pacific Command and Aabassador to China, and the former vice chief of naval operations, among other high-ranking, and now retired, military officers. Their consensus conclusion: “The nature and pace of climate changes being observed today and the consequences projected by the consensus scientific opinion are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security.”

Rising sea levels will mean millions of refugees attempting to flee low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, and over-straining the resources of neighboring states. Projected changes in rainfall patterns indicate increased aridity and desertification in broad swaths of Africa, pushing populations struggling with marginal food resources over the edge into outright famine. Clearly, these are global issues of the utmost importance – politically, diplomatically, and morally.

Finally, from the same study: “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world and it presents significant national security challenges for the U.S. Accordingly, it is appropriate to start now to help mitigate the severity of some of these emergent challenges. The decision to act should be made soon in order to plan prudently for the nation’s security. The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.”

Lee Walker Oxenham