WASHINGTON (CN) – Senators were urged to lead rather than follow in the battle against climate change, by experts stressing the national security implications of drought, famine, and disease that result in mass migrations and failed states – the explosive ingredients of war. “We can’t follow the public, we’ve got to lead the public,” former Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner said.
“Addressing the consequences of changes in the Earth’s climate is not simply about saving polar bears or preserving the beauty of mountain glaciers,” Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, President of the American Security Project, said in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. “Climate change is a risk to our national security.”
A 2007 report by the Center for Naval Analysis reported that climate change is a “threat multiplier” with “the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today.”
Gunn warned of the national security consequences of climate change- migrations that create a new generation of “climate refugees,” the spread already seen of tropical diseases like malaria, and failing states that incubate extremism.
The experts urged senators to begin planning for climate-related conflicts, predicted heavy U.S. involvement, and warned about the lack of cooperation from China or India, the other largest polluters, in avoiding or mitigating climate change.
The hearing comes months before a United Nations conference on climate change and just a few weeks after the House passed a cap-and-trade bill by 219-212 with almost no Republican support. The Senate is now marking up that bill
Under the bill, polluters would be charged for their carbon dioxide emissions and emissions levels would be required to drop 83 percent by 2050.
Warner in particular heralded the ability of U.S. forces in dealing with current crises, and mentioned Sea Angel, where American troops responded quickly in 1991 to aid requests after a devastating tidal wave hit the coast of Bangladesh. The crew of amphibious ships that were diverted from their original mission are credited with saving more than 200,000 lives, having brought food, medical care, and water.
But Warner cautioned about future climate-derived clashes. “Our U.S. military could be drawn into these conflicts,” Warner said, precisely because of this unrivaled lift capacity, the ability to access other parts of the world, and the sense of responsibility the United States embodies.
New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen replied that the hope is the climate change related disasters can be avoided.
But Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Robert Casey seemed more pessimistic and communicated his worries by citing a magazine article he read that claimed the percent of the earth’s surface subject to drought had doubled in 30 years.
“The threat of catastrophic climate change is not an academic concern for the future,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. John Kerry said, a Massachusetts Democrat. “If four years, the Arctic is projected to experience its first ice-free summer, not in 2030, but in 2013,” he added, stressing its urgency.
The urgency came as some expressed doubt that other countries would help in reducing carbon emissions, adding a sense of inevitability of climate-related clashes.
Sharon Burke from the Center for a New American Security, and independent think tank, described a scenario game where international negotiators in 2015 tried to compromise on how to fight climate change. She said the Indians were not willing to cooperate whatsoever, and the study determined that even large concessions from the United States would not help. In the game, what mattered was what China was willing to do, but they were “not willing to do anything without getting paid or enabled.”
The game included Chinese and American players.
But Burke seemed less pessimistic than the study she described. “People need less convincing than they used to,” she said, and mentioned that China is beginning to feel pressure from its own people to address climate change.
Gunn from the American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, suggested that India and China don’t need a pollution phase in their development. “They don’t have to do it the same way we did it over the last 100 years,” he said, referencing new technologies.
“National security capabilities can take decades to build,” Burke said, urging expediency. “We need to design the ideas and equipment and recruit and train the personnel to protect and defend the nation ten to forty years in the future, and it is clear that climate change will shape our future.”
“This is one of the most complex issues that’s ever been faced by the Congress of the United States,” Warner said. “You have got to be the leaders,” adding, “I do strongly suggest that we take the lead and step out in Copenhagen.”
The United Nations is scheduled in December to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark for a conference on climate change, which would be the last meeting of signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, and others, before the treaty expires. The conference is viewed by many as an opportunity to take a new step towards addressing climate change.