National Security, Climate Change and Sustainable Energy - Part 1

Securing a safe, healthy & sustainable future

We Homo sapiens have always had to adapt to climate, geology and geography. However, in the 20th century, through our burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — and mass deforestation, which increases atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, we are causing the atmosphere to warm and the climate to change. Our military leaders warn us that climate change poses profound, grave and immediate risks to our national security and way of life and is a “catalyst for conflict.” However, we can still ensure our grandchildren’s security by rapidly transitioning off of fossil fuels to low-carbon and sustainable sources of clean renewable energy and not wasting our finite resources — oil and water.

Climate change

All over the world, evidence shows that our climate is changing. Since 1880, our burning of fossil fuels has increased the level of carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere. This increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions has increased Earth’s average surface temperature by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), at a more rapid rate than in other periods of our planet’s history. Most warming has increased in the past 15 years; 2014 was the warmest year in modern record.

Climate change is (1) melting the Arctic, glaciers and land ice; (2) decreasing mountain snowpack; (3) causing droughts and flooding, ocean acidification and sea level rise; and (4) increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, storms and tornados. Other effects include longer and hotter summers, more frequent and longer-lasting wildfires and changing precipitation patterns, including heavier downpours of rain. Climate change is killing our forests and threatening the extinction of plants, animals, birds, coral reefs and fish.

Threats to our national security

Our military leadership is gravely concerned that our military capability and national security is at risk from the effects of climate change. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, USN, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command testified last year that he considers climate change to be the greatest long-term threat to security in the Pacific, except North Korea.

Geopolitical instability is the single greatest issue that the world needs to face. Regions in northeast Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and India and throughout the Pacific Rim are impacted by climate change — extreme weather events, sea-level rise and surges, droughts, desertification and flooding. Coupled with the current massive population explosion — increasing at 12 million people per month — migration and unstable conditions create tremendous potential sources of conflict.

For example, the multiyear drought in Syria and the Assad regime’s ineptitude of dealing with it left 3.5 million of its citizens without food and water. Sea levels will rise between 5 and 35 inches in Bangladesh by 2100, potentially displacing from 13 to 40 million of its citizens. Where will they go? Worldwide, estimates range from “200 million to 1 billion migrants from climate change alone, by 2050.”

Populations of ocean fish species have migrated in response to warming temperatures and ocean acidification. Combined with overfishing, how will this impact the 60% of world’s population in the Asia-Pacific area who mainly rely upon the sea for their protein?

Oil is a finite resource. What if the oil-rich nations — Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia — were to manipulate the flow of oil to suddenly cause economic disaster to those countries dependent on the oil? We need to establish renewable energy sources to be truly energy independent.

There is still time and much to do

In my next blog, I’ll discuss how we all can protect our national security and secure our grandchildren’s future against the impacts of climate change.

Len Hering's picture
February 2, 2015 - 14:05 -- Len Hering
About Len Hering

Former Executive Director (2012-17)
Len is a prominent military and civilian sustainability leader with a broad background in energy and environmental issues.