Climate Change is a Security Risk
by Eric Johnson (from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 21, 2016)
In 2014, the Pentagon cited climate change as an “immediate” threat to the United States’ safety because of the strain it will put on our military, both in responding to climate change-caused disasters in our own country and dealing with political unrest in nations that fall apart under the stress of climate change. Last July, the Department of Defense delivered a similar report to Congress, concluding that the “Defense Department already is observing the impacts of climate change in shocks and stressors to vulnerable nations and communities, including in the United States, the Arctic, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.”
These projections may sound a bit abstract, so let’s look at the damage that climate change is causing right now and see what it might look like when the full weight of this problem hits our country.
It may be hard for us to imagine here in the breadbasket of the world, but many populated areas are very dry. Growing food in these regions has no margin for error, and even relatively small fluctuations in rainfall can cause food scarcity and trigger mass migrations of people. Beginning in 2006, Syria experienced a long drought that resulted in many rural residents losing their livelihoods. This helped to spark the bloody civil war that’s been raging for five years now. Other fallout from this drought includes the rise of ISIS (it’s true—check politifact.com) and the immigrant crisis in Europe. According to the UN, 4.8 million Syrians have been displaced from their home country. As the weather becomes more erratic and imperils other countries’ food supplies and economies, we will see many more ISIS-like groups and millions of people flooding into neighboring countries as refugees.
The United States could easily experience an immigration crisis similar to what Europe is facing now. Mexico has less farmable land per capita than Syria. A severe drought in Mexico could lead to a mass migration of Mexicans seeking refuge in the US. Twenty-eight percent of Syrians have so far sought refuge in neighboring countries. If a similar proportion of Mexicans sought refuge in the US, we would be looking at 26 million Mexican refugees. That’s more than double the number of illegal Mexican immigrants currently living in our country.
Further, as climate change limits our own country’s resources and causes us to ration water and food, we will likely experience a surge of riots and violent crime. Scarcity scares people. This is especially dangerous in a country where many people have access to guns.
These are the kinds of scenarios the Pentagon is worried about. Climate change guarantees that things like this are going to happen. The only way to stop climate change is with action at the federal level. Proposed legislation currently exists to solve climate change, and it even creates millions of jobs. The plan is called Carbon Fee and Dividend, and it involves placing a fee on carbon, then taking the proceeds of that fee and distributing it equally to all American households. This protects the vast majority of Americans from increased energy costs, while at the same time creates an incentive to use less carbon-intensive energy and products.
However, no legislation that addresses the climate change threat will make it through Congress unless it’s supported by Republicans, as they control both houses. A group of Republicans in the House has started down the climate solution path, but there is currently no Republican leadership on this issue in the Senate. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a clear-sighted Republican to stand up and rescue us from the cliff we’re teetering on. This leader will go down in history as having saved the U.S. from these immigration and military catastrophes.
I nominate Senator Joni Ernst. Her military experience gives her unique insight into this looming threat. She wasn’t afraid to be the first female veteran in the Senate, so she shouldn’t be afraid to be the first to take on this historic challenge. Call Senator Ernst and tell her to support Carbon Fee and Dividend legislation.