Targets of the Climate

           When a politician labels an issue a matter of national security it is appropriate to have a healthy degree of skepticism. Politicians often label an issue a national security threat to increase the sense of urgency regardless of whether that urgency is warranted. At first glance climate change may appear to be one of these issues, but in truth it is a legitimate, albeit relatively minor, national security threat. If left unaddressed, climate change will continue to degrade/weaken U.S. military readiness and will increase instability in areas of national security interest. To prevent this, the U.S. should pursue multinational agreements and implement a domestic carbon tax.

            In January of this year the Department of Defense released a report detailing the ways climate change threatens national security [1]. Changing climates have increasingly impacted U.S. military installations around the world through melting permafrost, wildfires, and other natural forces. Each of these occurrences degrades the military’s response capabilities and preparedness, even if on a small scale. An increase in severe storms has perhaps caused the most damage thus far, as evidenced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 which leveled an Air Force base in Florida, destroying not only buildings but fighter jets as well [2]

           In addition to the direct threat that climate change poses to military readiness, there are indirect ways in which it threatens the nation as well. Rising temperatures in the American South have decreased the amount of time soldiers can train without getting heat exhaustion [3]. This will inevitably affect the preparedness of these soldiers and in a worst-case scenario could put lives at risk. Currently this risk is likely minor because training can be performed elsewhere or on different days, but if climate alterations around the globe continue to affect training capabilities this threat could increase and become more difficult to mitigate.

           The ways in which climate change affects developing or unstable countries also indirectly threatens the United States, but it is probably the greatest concern. Climate change does not have the potential in the near-term to cause instability within the United States, but there are nations in which it may [4]. Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to climate change considering it is a cluster of low elevation islands. The nation already experiences some instability, andclimate events like droughts or typhoons could cause unrest. It is possible that an internal conflict would develop or that extremists would target U.S. interests in the country. Such a scenario could quickly develop into a U.S. national security concern or even require U.S. involvement. Similar risky situations exist in several African countries affected by climate change.

           If the United States is to stem the direct damage being done by climate change and prevent potential indirect threats, then it must engage in multinational agreements to reduce the rise of climate change. Chinese participation would be important to any agreement,  as it is the world’s largest CO2 emitter [5]. This could be done by including climate negotiations in current trade talks. It may also be helpful to increase international pressure on China by proposing a non-binding resolution in the U.N. General Assembly encouraging CO2 emissions below current Chinese levels.

           But the United States should work to reduce domestic emissions regardless of whether China cooperates. The U.S. should do this in moderate ways to avoid damaging its economy, but it must do what it can to prevent widespread climate disasters which could significantly affect its national security. One possibility is a small to moderate carbon tax on energy producers [6]. This would encourage corporations to transition to natural gas and renewable energies such as solar and wind. Additionally, the government should provide more funding to upgrade old nuclear energy facilities and build safe new ones. A combination of these policies will in the long term reduce the national security threats from climate change and may even provide national security benefits in other ways by reducing U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

           While climate change is not the largest national security threat facing the United States, it needs to be taken seriously. Aside from direct threats, it has the potential to catalyze other threats such as instability in developing countries, which could necessitate U.S. involvement. The most effective way to mitigate this is through multinational deals and a small to moderate domestic carbon tax.


[1] https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/29/2002084200/-1/-1/1/CLIMATE-CHANGE-REPORT-2019.PDF

[2] https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Hurricane-Andrew-25-Years-Later-Homestead-Was-Ground-Zero-441464193.html

[3] https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/29/2002084200/-1/-1/1/CLIMATE-CHANGE-REPORT-2019.PDF

[4] https://cfrd8-files.cfr.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/ClimateChange_CSR32%20%281%29.pdf

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/business/china-davos-climate-change.html

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/want-a-green-new-deal-heres-a-better-one/2019/02/24/2d7e491c-36d2-11e9-af5b-b51b7ff322e9_story.html?utm_term=.064616226a01

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Colton Quist

COLTON QUIST is a senior from Boise Idaho. As part of his studies in Political Science he recently completed an internship with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington D.C. and intends on returning to the east coast for graduate school. He has a passion for critical writing, history, and everything political. He loves to spend his spare time reading the news or off-roading but enjoys nearly anything so long as it’s with the people he cares about. ​

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Colton Quist

COLTON QUIST is a senior from Boise Idaho. As part of his studies in Political Science he recently completed an internship with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington D.C. and intends on returning to the east coast for graduate school. He has a passion for critical writing, history, and everything political. He loves to spend his spare time reading the news or off-roading but enjoys nearly anything so long as it’s with the people he cares about. ​

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