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Climate Change Should Be Viewed as a National Security Threat

Although many people do not think of climate change as a national security threat, it most certainly is and should be treated as such. As policymakers attempt to grapple with the consequences of our warming planet, they must address the climate change that multiplies the stresses on our environment.


Direct Threats to National Security 


Extreme weather causes concerns for the U.S. military, like damaging infrastructure, making outdoor training and military exercises difficult and disrupting military supply chains. One example of extreme weather damaging military infrastructure was in 2013 when a climate change-induced flash flood swept through Fort Irwin, located in the Mojave Desert. The monsoon downpour caused structural damage in the garrison, including severe flooding in an elementary school. Other military coastal operations and buildings are at a similar risk. Furthermore, as natural disasters increase in frequency, the military has continually had to step up as first responders.


Climate change also disrupts domestic energy infrastructure. Higher temperatures cause increased energy use, leading to higher temperatures. It’s a vicious cycle that creates a hotter and hotter planet. Additionally, higher temperatures affect electricity production; power plants use water for cooling, and the warmer the water, the less effective the generators. 


Also, coastal areas are at risk from rising sea levels, storm surges and flooding caused by the climate crisis. Infrastructure, like airports, roads, rail lines and bridges, are increasingly at risk of being damaged or destroyed as extreme weather worsens. 


Indirect Threats to National Security 


Climate change is driving global migration and displacement. Some responses are direct like droughts forcing people to move. Other effects are more indirect such as hotter temperatures threatening agricultural livelihoods, compelling migration to cities and causing more severe floods that destroy homes. The United States is no outlier to these challenges, and more and more migrants driven by climate threats are crossing the southern border. This is causing political turmoil, as there is inadequate preparation and accommodation for the influx of migrants. This failure leads to social tensions and xenophobia, which is especially apparent in the 2024 election year, where candidates argue about the issue in a public manner. 


Global warming is increasing the rate at which sea ice is melting in the Arctic. This creates access to new trade routes and potential resource extraction, which are controversial because they would destroy natural resources in a previously untouched area. Also, geopolitical tensions will rise as nations fight for these newly-accessible trade routes and resources. As in many international affairs, the United States has a big hand to play here. It is one of the nations in the Arctic Council (the intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the region). The U.S. must work to cooperate with other countries to ensure stability and peace. 


Exacerbated weather changes highlight the importance of transitioning from carbon-intensive energy sources, like coal and natural gas, to renewable energy infrastructure. Countries globally recognize this challenge and have organized agreements, like the Paris Climate Accords, to pursue efforts to limit global temperature rises. This international pressure to wean off coal and natural gas will increase international tensions, creating new risks to energy security.

This pressure will speed up the competition to secure critical resources for clean energy sources, like rare minerals for batteries. Concerning domestic dealings, our country is not on track to meet its climate goals, opening pathways for criticism from other nations and undermining its credibility at the global level. 


Food and water security and the increasing spread of diseases are also consequences of climate change that indirectly threaten national security. 


The Bottom Line 


Faced with the increasing consequences of climate change, the United States must look at climate crises in a different light to effectively handle the national security threats they pose. Now is the time to address these issues head-on and take practical steps to build resilience for the future. 



Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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