If America Is Serious About Its National Security, It Should Focus on Climate Change

 In FVEY, P5

If more evi­dence were needed that cli­mate change is a real­i­ty and that it is not only a phe­nom­e­non taking place in far­away con­ti­nents, wild­fires, hur­ri­canes, and mas­sive rains have dev­as­tat­ed sev­er­al parts of the United States, from the east coast to the west coast.

For being a coun­try so pre­oc­cu­pied by its nation­al secu­ri­ty, the United States — and pri­mar­i­ly its lead­er­ship — should take seri­ous­ly the threat that cli­mate change poses to the American nation and beyond. Climate change works as a “threat mul­ti­pli­er” and is likely to shaken U.S. sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty, if left unad­dressed.

Climate change is expect­ed to fur­ther dis­rupt many areas of life, exac­er­bat­ing exist­ing chal­lenges to pros­per­i­ty, deep­en­ing eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty, dete­ri­o­rat­ing infra­struc­ture, destroy­ing nat­ur­al resources and liveli­hoods, and dis­rupt­ing key indus­tries like the agri­cul­tur­al and fish­ing sec­tors.

The first, imme­di­ate, and vis­i­ble effect of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters as a result of cli­mate change is the dev­as­ta­tion itself. Images show­ing raging wild­fires, fire­fight­ers putting out flames and embers, entire neigh­bor­hoods destroyed, and a sky obscured by an orange smoke have inun­dat­ed the web for the last few weeks.

As of September 15, 3.2 million acres in California have been incin­er­at­ed — almost double the pre­vi­ous record of 1.9 mil­lion, set in 2018. This number will keep rising as wild­fires con­tin­ue to rage unabat­ed in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Another imme­di­ate effect of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters trig­gered by cli­mate change, yet less vis­i­ble, is the dis­place­ment of entire com­mu­ni­ties as their lands, prop­er­ties, liveli­hoods, and neigh­bor­hoods are destroyed. Without an offi­cial system to mon­i­tor inter­nal dis­place­ment in the United States, most of the num­bers remain esti­mates. Yet, they offer an alarm­ing pic­ture: cli­mate dis­place­ment has begun in the United States. While a report by the New York Times and ProPublica esti­mates that 100,000 people were forced off their homes because of the wild­fires in California, at least 40,000 people had been evac­u­at­ed in Oregon and about half a mil­lion people had either been told to leave their homes or to pre­pare to do so. However, the real­i­ty is that nat­ur­al dis­as­ter-induced dis­place­ment in the United States has been under­way for quite some time. The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reports that over 354,000 new dis­place­ments were record­ed in California in 2018 fol­low­ing an out­break of fires.

While the west coast is burn­ing, the east coast is increas­ing­ly threat­ened by the rise of sea levels and storms. Coastal regions, prop­er­ty, and crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture have been or will be exposed to damage, and even destruc­tion as a result of cli­mate change. These dam­ages and destruc­tions will come with human, mate­r­i­al, and finan­cial costs.

Hurricane Katrina, which made land­fall near Grand Isle on August 29, 2005, must still be on everyone’s mind. It was report­ed to be the costli­est storm in U.S. his­to­ry with an esti­mat­ed $108 billion in property damage. More than one mil­lion people in the Gulf region were dis­placed by the storm. A year after Hurricane Katrina, more than half of the pop­u­la­tion of New Orleans was still dis­placed. In 2019, the pop­u­la­tion has grown back to almost 80 per­cent of where it was pre-hur­ri­cane. Yet, many have not returned to this day.

The damage and destruc­tion caused by cli­mate change are not lim­it­ed to civil­ian lives and infra­struc­ture, major mil­i­tary instal­la­tions and oper­a­tions, out­door train­ing, defense sup­plies, as well as an increased demand for dis­as­ter and human­i­tar­i­an relief over­seas, will be increas­ing­ly impact­ed. In 2014, the Department of Defense’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap already warned: “cli­mate change will affect the Department of Defense’s abil­i­ty to defend the Nation and poses imme­di­ate risks to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty.”

The coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has remind­ed us of the impor­tance of invest­ing in public health and making it a top pri­or­i­ty of nation­al and inter­na­tion­al poli­cies. It would be a grave error to not see the threat that cli­mate change also poses to human health. This is anoth­er reason why the U.S. gov­ern­ment and fed­er­al agen­cies should work to mit­i­gate the effects of cli­mate change. While the health risks posed by cli­mate change tend to dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly harm mar­gin­al­ized groups and low-income fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als, chang­ing heat, air pol­lu­tion, extreme weath­er, vector-borne dis­eases, and access to safe water and food will affect us all. The fre­quen­cy and sever­i­ty of aller­gic ill­ness­es, includ­ing asthma and hay fever, are expect­ed to increase as a result of a chang­ing cli­mate. This is already observed in west­ern states cur­rent­ly bat­tling wild­fires. Experts worry that expo­sure to wild­fire smoke can weaken immune sys­tems and cause res­pi­ra­to­ry ill­ness­es which could worsen the con­di­tions of those already infect­ed by coro­n­avirus, pos­si­bly lead­ing to more deaths.

In a 2016 scientific assessment of the impacts of cli­mate change on health, the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that an increase of thou­sands to tens of thou­sands of pre­ma­ture deaths can be expect­ed in summer months across the United States as a result of rising tem­per­a­tures. The same study found that older adults and chil­dren are at higher risk of dying or becom­ing ill due to extreme heat.

Climate change cannot be stopped. It’s already here. Yet, there are two pos­si­bil­i­ties: let it be and allow it to get worse, or reduce the effects and get seri­ous about taking adap­ta­tion and mit­i­ga­tion actions and poli­cies. Unfortunately, the cur­rent U.S. admin­is­tra­tion has chosen the former. Without the sup­port of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, American cit­i­zens, local com­mu­ni­ties, busi­ness­es, and state offi­cials will have to step up because “this is a cli­mate damn emer­gency,” as declared a few days ago by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Hajer Naili is a former jour­nal­ist. She cur­rent­ly serves as the Communications and Media Manager at The Soufan Center.

Image: Reuters.

National Interest source|articles

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