Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Climate Change, Diplomacy, and National Security

In unpublished written testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee following his confirmation as Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis said what many previous Defense Department officials have said: climate change is a national security concern. "Climate change," Mattis wrote, "is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today."

The written testimony came in the form of replies to questions posed by Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In response to one of the questions, Mattis said, "I agree that the effects of a changing climate--such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others--impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness."

Last Thursday, in an interview on CNBC, EPA head Scott Pruitt reverted to form, denying that carbon dioxide "is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see." In making this statement, Pruitt contradicted the clear scientific consensus regarding human-induced climate change and its causes. As the graph below (taken from NASA's climate website) indicates, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased from a mean of roughly 250 parts per million (ppm) in the pre-industrial world to 400 ppm at present.

The EPA's website states, "The most effective way to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is to reduce fossil fuel consumption." And yet today President Trump, as expected, began the process of rescinding automobile fuel efficiency standards put in place during the Obama administration. Fossil fuel consumption is affected by a variety of factors (including levels of economic activity), but the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards that were first implemented in 1975 are an important way of insuring that fossil fuel use is limited in the United States.

Trump has said, on multiple occasions, that he thinks global warming is a "hoax." His SecDef says that climate change is already having an impact on international security. The commander-in-chief's climate change denial will clearly make the secretary of defense's job of defending the United States and its interests harder. But so, too, will Trump's plans to slash the State Department's budget by almost a third. Back in 2013, General Mattis told Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), "If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it's a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department's diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene."

Donald Trump has said he would defer to Secretary Mattis on the question of torture. He should do the same on climate change and diplomacy.