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Retired 4-star general: Climate change is 'catalyst for conflict'

Scientists have warned about climate change and its consequences for decades. Now, the military is taking a stand.

The warnings are the same: Rising sea levels and storm surges could wipe out port cities. Drought and flooding could alter crop production and cause famine and civil unrest.

And melting polar ice caps could produce new competition for oil and mineral rights as well as conflict over how countries share that wealth.

“I think the days of isolation are over,” Donald Hoffman, a retired four-star general in the Air Force, said yesterday during a Columbus Metropolitan Club panel discussion in Ohio. “We will be pulled into things ... because it’s the right thing to do and there’s no one else to do them.”

Hoffman is one of 16 retired military leaders who contributed to a report on climate change and national security that was released this week.

He and Michael Breen, a former Army officer and director of the Truman National Security Project and Center for National Policy, made up the panel.

The new report updates a similar effort in 2007.

“The one thing we didn’t get right was the predictions, the rate of change,” Hoffman said. “The 100-year storms don’t come every 100 years now. Maybe it’s every 10 years.”

Hoffman described climate change as a “catalyst for conflict” that could worsen existing problems such as famine, disease and poverty and lead to terrorist activity or other violence.

“The U.S. military does not want to become the disaster relief force for the world,” Hoffman said, adding that it will protect its interests and help its allies.

Rising sea levels are one of the main concerns: “Are there going to be locations like Guam that are going to be there as relay or launching points in the region if they’re under water?” he asked.

New shipping lanes at the poles and friction over oil drilling also could erupt.

This week, NASA said that the West Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing and could raise global sea levels by 4 feet in the next century.

Yesterday’s discussion also offered solutions, including weaning the nation, including the military, off of fossil fuels.

“Your entire civilian economy runs on this single source of fuel. That’s a threat,” Breen said.

He noted that many combat units now use solar panels to generate power.

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