Barack Obama. Al Gore. John Kerry. These are the names of some of the most frequent and forceful advocates for climate action. But because of their political affiliations, all three have baggage and so their message can fall upon deaf ears when it reaches those who question the reality of climate change. Would those same climate deniers listen and change their beliefs if the messenger was not a politician but instead a member of the military, perhaps the most revered institution in the country? I would wager that many would. Climate deniers, and those who wish to convert them, would do well to read John Broder's New York Times article today, "Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security." In it, Broder reports that for some time the military has been factoring in climate change into their war game scenarios. They expect that in the decades to come, global warming will cause population displacement, mass drought, and food shortages that will provide the U.S. will significant national security threats.
Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.
An exercise last December at the National Defense University, an educational institute that is overseen by the military, explored the potential impact of a destructive flood in Bangladesh that sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, the spread of contagious diseases and vast damage to infrastructure. "It gets real complicated real quickly," said Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who is working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning.
Changing the Frame
Climate activists have shifted their messages over the years to reflect what they viewed the American public wanted to hear a the time. The message has gone from one about far away places ("Save the Polar Bears", "Save the Arctic") to an economic one ("Green Jobs Now"). Sadly, no message, issue report, or organizing push has been strong enough to overcome the myriad reasons that those who oppose strong climate action put forward.
Skeptics don't believe in the science and probably don't spend much time sitting around reading IPCC reports. Climate change is a slow process and its invisible causes--methane, CO2, and HFC gases--don't stir the public to take immediate action.
The time might be right for a national security message, delivered by the right spokespeople--the military. Imagine if General David Petraeus addressed the Congress on climate change. As the commander of the United States Central Command, he has the authority and position to bring great weight to the fact that we need action now. Think Limbaugh has the guts to shout him down? Think Glenn Beck would dismiss him as a loon? I doubt it. Business has come over to the side of climate action. Maybe it's time some smart green group start to work with the national security crowd to amplify a message that must be heard now.