National security threats caused by climate change could become “catalysts for conflict” while the world hasn’t taken enough action to address the advancing problem, high-ranking retired military leaders conclude in a study released Tuesday.
In a Center for Naval Analyses report, entitled “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change,” a military advisory board of 16 former admirals and generals concluded the impact of climate change is already being felt and in some cases faster than expected.
The former military leaders called on the United States to take a more leading role on an international response to the problem. They compared the challenge of climate change to facing the Soviet nuclear threat in the Cold War and to terrorism in recent years.
“The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced,” they said in a signed letter in the report. Former Air Force Materiel Command leader and retired Gen. Donald J. Hoffman was among those who signed the document and is a member of the federally funded research and development center’s military advisory board.
“The call to action I think is more urgent.” Hoffman said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “This is not something that we can just ignore.”
The longer action is delayed, the more challenging it will be to mitigate or adapt to climate change, the retired general said. “There’s enough evidence out there to say climate change is happening.”
While the report reached no conclusion on the cause of climate change, Hoffman cited the release of greenhouse gases over the last century during the industrial revolution as a cause.
Climate change will hurt the economy, critical transportation infrastructure, threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, disrupt agriculture and manufacturing and strain military forces and readiness, the report said.
The issue of climate change has been controversial in Washington and elsewhere, and just this week U.S. Sen. Mario Rubio, R-Fla., said in an ABC News interview he did not believe man-made causes have sparked climate change.
“I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he was quoted as saying prior to the CNA report’s release.
But Michael Breen, executive director of the Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy, said climate change is a threat to national and global security and that the United States should take a stronger leadership role to address that threat.
“Believing in climate change is like believing in the Mississippi River or some other natural phenomenon,” said Breen, whose organization’s website says it recruits, trains and positions progressives across America to lead on national security. “This is a real thing in the real world and there’s no political difference of opinion here. It’s happening whether you believe in it or not.”
Breen, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in Dayton Tuesday to attend a climate change forum at the University of Dayton.
The CNA report said efforts to mitigate climate change thus far have not been enough to confront a future with the “significant potential” of water, food and energy insecurity, political instability, and extreme weather events, among other consequences.
“When it comes to thinking about the impacts of climate change, we must guard against a failure of imagination,” the document said, noting how U.S. intelligence analysts missed the prospect of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners and using them to attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The latest report updates a CNA report released in 2007. Over that time, the military leaders said the impact of climate change has become more notable.
Hundreds of millions of people have settled in urban and coastal areas and by 2030 population growth will cause a worldwide demand for 35 percent more food and 50 percent more energy, based on intelligence estimates, the report said.
Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on fresh water, food and energy has become “more profound,” the report said.
The board members
Gen. Paul Kern, USA, (Ret.), Chairman, CNA Corporation's Military Advisory Board
Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, USN (Ret.), Vice Chairman, CNA Corporation's Military Advisory Board
Brig. Gen. Gerald E. Galloway, Jr., USA (Ret.), Vice Chairman, CNA Corporation's Military Advisory Board
Adm. Frank "Skip" Bowman, USN (Ret.)
Gen. James Conway, USMC (Ret.)
Lt. Gen. Ken Eickmann, USAF (Ret.)
Lt. Gen. Larry Farrell, USAF (Ret.)
Gen. Don Hoffman, USAF (Ret.)
Gen. Ron Keys, USAF (Ret.)
Rear Adm. Neil Morisetti, British Royal Navy (Ret.)
Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau, USN (Ret.)
Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, USMC (Ret.)
Gen. Gordon Sullivan, USA (Ret.)
Rear Adm. David Titley, USN (Ret.)
Gen. Charles "Chuck" Wald, USAF (Ret.)
Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, USMC (Ret.)