Climate Change: It’s an Expensive National Security Threat

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

“There is overwhelming support in our conference for providing additional resources to protect our national security,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) after asking that the House Rules Committee increase the $36 billion war funding account by another $2 billion, according to Reuters. “I would rather keep all the levels lower and stick to the sequester,” said fellow Republican, Representative Justin Amash (Mich).

Clearly how to fund the U.S. military — and what justifies an increase in funding — is controversial even within the same party, and even within the generally more pro-military Republican party at that. Recently, aggression from ISIS has sparked a push for military funding, but it isn’t the only threat on the horizon that could spark financial demands beyond America’s expectations in the future.

The concept of climate change as a national security threat has at this point been discussed in depth, but the connections between America’s national security demands within the military and the economy deserve more attention.

Climate change is going to have many costs in the years to come across a wide array of industries that simply can’t be prevented, only mitigated. California has been one of the more convenient examples recently, with the crop-damaging drought demonstrating just how many areas of life can be affected by years of deficiency. With the reduction in water, certain crops have been unable to grow, making economic impacts three-fold. First there’s the blow to the agricultural business itself, then there’s the loss of work for those who would usually do harvesting or help to bring in the crops in other ways. Third, there’s the overall U.S. agricultural economy, with certain crops no longer available to citizens and also taken out of rotation for exports. Imports are similarly affected by climate change when other nations cut off supplies of certain goods, meaning the trade economy suffers.On top of agricultural concerns, there will also be emergency costs in the form of infrastructure repair and modification to handle extreme weather conditions and fallout from major disaster events. All of this has a cumulative impact on military support as well. The military will have it own series of challenges posed by climate change (that will be undoubtedly expensive as well), but even just the ability of the nation to financially and logistically support the military will be problematic given the other trade and infrastructure challenges “undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities,” as it was phrased by the Quadrennial Defense Review.

The military budget will simultaneously need to rise to contend with national security issues at home and abroad caused or exacerbated by climate change, whether it’s in the form of rescue efforts and reconstruction following severe weather events like Hurricane Katrina, or increased global instability and conflict resulting from worsening poverty and living conditions in nations abroad. Starvation from crop failure and economic downturns exacerbate already-present tension and increase the likelihood of conflict between the United States and other nations. “The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities,” stated the Defense Review.

President Barack Obama spoke about the security side of the issue at U.S. Coast Guard Academy Commencement May 20, emphasizing the importance of how global warming will affect the military in years to come. “Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act — and we need to act now,” Obama said. He even indirectly addressed the role of energy efficiency in minimizing expenses and leaving room in the budget for the new demands that we’ll be facing. “Across our military, our bases and ports are using more solar and wind, which helps save money that we can use to improve readiness,” he stated, also mentioning initiatives that include vehicles with greater fuel efficiency and biofuels used in both carriers and planes.The economic impact of climate change is, by nature, a downward spiral. The economy suffers when businesses and production are damaged or unable to operate with the resources available. Infrastructure is damaged by extreme weather, further hurting the economy when large areas of the economy must be shut down while aid and repair take place — but this repair will take longer and longer given the already-crippled economy that is ill-equipped to pay for and support this repair.

The military will find itself in a similar situation, and there is little question that national security won’t suffer as a result. “Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions,” states the Department of Defense in the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. “Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered and constrained.”

These new demands will require new equipment, new training, new tactics, and preparing for and producing these new methods and supplies will be made that much more difficult under these stressful conditions. While efforts are being made to plan for and mitigate this inevitability, rather than shrinking the military budget or growing it in response to threats in the Middle East, the United States will be forced to increase it just to tread water, upping national debt and financially destabilizing an already stressed economy.

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