What Does National Security Have to Do With the Environment?

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The diehard environmentalist — compost in the backyard and vegan tattoo across their chest — turns out to have some interests in common with your gun toting national security conservative. Since there’s a fair amount of overlap between the two concerns, as David L. Goldwyn of Goldwyn Global Strategies LLC told a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Relations Tuesday, “I believe we can harmonize our interests in mitigating global climate change — a national security risk itself — and advancing our energy security,” said Goldwyn in his delivered testimony.

When one considers the biggest international energy industry players, it quickly becomes apparent why dependence on the energy industry has become a security liability; Russia, the Middle East, and so on. Goldwyn specifically points out how Russian interference in Ukraine — which as of recently may include supplying weaponry and expertise that contributed to Flight MH17′s destruction — and the resulting political tensions across Europe and with the U.S. could lead to a major complication in the energy market for Europeans.

“Russia continues to lend material support to separatists operating in Eastern Ukraine and last month stopped supplying natural gas to Kiev … there are justifiable fears that such shortages will ensue if the Russian cutoff persists into this winter,” noted Goldwyn. “Countries proximate to Russia, including those in Western Europe, [need to] diversify their sources of supply.”

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The United States has found itself in a similarly dangerous position with oil suppliers in the Middle East, and though current violence due to ISIL won’t necessarily interfere with the oil production, it’s certainly a high risk.

This places the U.S. in a position where it can be of some assistance, and in lending ballast to the market and preventing complete dependence on dangerous and unstable relationships globally, or at least “signal very clearly that it is prepared to export grades of excess crude if disruptions worsen and the global market requires more supply.” On top of that, it could potentially help to control the kinds of energy developing nations come to rely on.

“China and India alone are expected to build nearly 40 percent of the world’s new generation capacity, and both countries are currently heavily reliant on coal as a base load fuel,” writes Goldwyn, noting that natural gas would be considerably cheaper and better for the environment should India and China chose to adopt it as opposed to other energy options. “Natural gas thus remains the obvious fuel choice to serve as a bridge to scalable renewable energy,” he claimed. In some ways, by creating energy instability out of conflict, countries like Russia highlight, justify, and create the situation to require more environmentally friendly energy pathways. Reliance on certain countries for gas and oil isn’t just bad for emissions, it’s bad for national security, and its bad for where it would eventually lead other nations if we don’t innovate.

Read More: Climate Change Could Lead to a Cold War Over Resources

The idea that India, China, and other developing nations are one of the international communities largest environmental concern is hardly a new one. President Barack Obama also spoke on this at a capital dinner last month. “Right now, developing countries have some of the fastest-rising levels of carbon pollution. They are less equipped to cope with the effects of climate change than we are. But they’re also trying to deal with hundreds of millions of people in poverty,” he said. “The tradeoffs for them are even tougher than for us sometimes unless we describe how development should leapfrog some of the old technologies, learn lessons from us, and go right to a clean energy future … we’ve got to lead by example. They’re waiting to see what America does.”

Nations like China make deals with Russia that damage the effectiveness of economic sanctions from the rest of the world. This is perhaps partly an inherent choosing of sides amidst east and west tensions, but in part it’s a demonstration of the power of the energy industry. The United State’s own history demonstrates this as well.

The effects of global climate change also poses another risk to national security, and a big one. Environmental change and the subsequent negative effects — from crop failures to natural disasters — will have adverse effects on the economy, on national strength and stability, and ultimately on the ability of the U.S. to security.

Read More: Are Complacent Markets Masking the Rise of Geopolitical Risk?

Goldwyn writes, in part quoting the report, that, “The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, released in March 2014, identifies climate change as a threat multiplier capable of exacerbating poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions — all of which contribute to terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” The report itself goes far more into specifics, discussing the risk to “support training activities … food costs” and so on. Infrastructure within the United States and its own difficulties were also listed, beyond just how other nations might respond to the additional pressures.

Ultimately, in politics, everything is connected. Wars are begun over simpler and smaller things than will face the world as environmental issues come to a head, which is why it’s so important to do things right, strategically, and with forward thinking.

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