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What They’re Saying: Military Leaders Respond to the President’s Call to Battle Climate Change

Military leaders respond to the President's call to combat climate change.

Yesterday, President Obama delivered the commencement address to the 134th Cadet Class of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The President congratulated the class on all they had achieved over the last four years, but reminded them of the challenges they will face both domestic and abroad; challenges like counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, search and rescue, and disaster relief.

Of the greatest challenges the Cadets will face will be those wrought by our changing climate. As the President stated:

“Around the world, climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict.  Rising seas are already swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to Pacific islands, forcing people from their homes.  Caribbean islands and Central American coasts are vulnerable, as well.  Globally, we could see a rise in climate change refugees.  And I guarantee you the Coast Guard will have to respond.  Elsewhere, more intense droughts will exacerbate shortages of water and food, increase competition for resources, and create the potential for mass migrations and new tensions.  All of which is why the Pentagon calls climate change a ‘threat multiplier.’” 

It's time to Act on Climate graphic

The Department of Defense has implemented a number of measures to reduce its carbon footprint by utilizing biofuels in ships and aircraft, and deploying ground troops with portable solar arrays. Research continues to show that the threat of climate change is real, but we can lessen and eventually reverse its impact by cutting the pace at which we produce carbon pollution, changing our energy use habits, and investing more in energy research and renewables.

Citing the words of William Arthur Ward on the pessimistic and optimistic approach to changing winds, the President said that we can neither complain of our circumstances, nor expect them to change on their own, instead we must be realists and “adjust our sails” to face the threat.

President Obama’s strong stance on climate change prompted many leaders in the military, Congress, and climate change research to respond in kind.

Here’s what they’re saying:

The Center for Climate and Security

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, Founding Directors, The Center for Climate and Security

“The Department of Defense has noted that climate change poses immediate risks to national security. The Coast Guard is on the front lines of responding to those immediate risks from climate change. Going forward, our policy-makers need to support the Coast Guard, and all the services, by advancing measures that will significantly lessen the security risks of a changing climate.”

Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw, US Marine Corps (ret), Advisory Board Member

"The U.S. Coast Guard is on the front lines of the national security implications of a changing climate. It's time our nation's policy-makers gave them the support they need to help prevent, prepare for and respond to those risks."

Brigadier General Gerry Galloway, USA (ret), Advisory Board Member

"The President is on the mark. Climate change is a national security issue.  Today's officers must not only think about what they're going to do tomorrow but about what will happen a decade or two in the future. Climate change has the potential to limit our forces' abilities to train at or operate from certain bases, and, in the case of our partners abroad, to create the potential for instability as climate changes shifts people from their lands or threatens the manner in which they subsist. Many of the ways in which climate change must be addressed will take years to accomplish, especially infrastructure modification and operational adaptation. Now is the time that many actions must begin if they are going to address the problems that will arise five, ten and twenty years from now."

Center for Naval Analyses

General Ron Keys, Chairman of CNA Military Advisory Board (MAB) and Cheryl Rosenblum, Executive Director of the MAB

Amplifying the President’s remarks today at the US Coast Guard Academy, the retired Generals and Admirals of CNA’s Military Advisory Board (MAB) have made it clear that climate change effects are threat multipliers in fragile areas of the world, and will serve as catalysts for conflict. The national security impacts of climate change are not confined by borders. The projected impacts will also be felt here at home; placing our economy, our infrastructure and our ability to generate military readiness at risk. Politics cannot be allowed to override this salient national security concern.

United States Senate

Senator John Warner

“The clear evidence of increasing erratic weather conditions with devastating consequences to life and on property are impacting communities across America as well as nations aboard who are looking to the US military for assistance. For these reasons the Department of Defense has taken a leadership role in preparing and training all segments of our regular, reserve, and National Guard forces to meet these challenges.”

The Truman Project

Michael Breen, Director

“The U.S. military has long recognized the effects of climate change as “threat multipliers.”

Droughts, famines, floods, and catastrophic storms destabilize regions of the world with weak infrastructure and fragile governments. Extremist groups take advantage of chaos to fill the voids of power.  Our military must stretch our resources thin to secure our vital interests around the globe.

That’s why the Department of Defense has been leading the way on investing in clean sources of energy and the innovative technological solutions that reduce emissions and enhance mission capability.

President Obama’s continued commitment to combating climate change will keep the United States on the right trajectory to strengthen our national security.”

“We applaud Reps. Bonamici, Smith, and Peters for their leadership on this issue. Our military needs the freedom to develop and select fuel sources based on cost, efficiency, and the needs of the mission – not politics. The language in H.R. 1806, as it stands, would prevent the DoD from working with the DoE to meet its energy needs through biofuels. This shortsighted and arbitrary restriction would be a strategic misstep for America’s national security. We hope the rest of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will heed the advice of the military and accept their colleagues’ amendment to strike this language from the bill.”