Monday, March 6, 2017

Guest Essay: National Security and Climate Change

The scale of the threats to our national and global security that climate change is creating is staggering. These are well known to America’s military and security experts. Yet the voices of these persons are not being adequately heard and acted on in Washington, even as these dangers to our country increase.

Climate change is creating a tremendous range of problems that will increasingly cause and worsen violence and conflicts. For example, droughts (like that in Syria) are multiplying the scale of conflict and migration. Water, food and grazing shortages will push tremendous numbers of people into areas controlled by others, creating and worsening conflicts in places like Darfur, in Sudan. Rising sea levels are a truly enormous threat, including through the future flooding of mega-cities on coasts around the world and the forced displacement of many millions. The melting of the Arctic icecaps is already creating international tensions with Russia over rights to underwater resources.

The US military and intelligence organizations are keenly aware of these threats to our national and global security, and the need for preventive actions to mitigate them. Our military sees climate change as both a core cause of conflict as well as acting as a “threat multiplier” to compound the impact of other causes. Our military also continues to work on its Climate Change Adaption Roadmap which is sounding the alarm for damage to our military capabilities, like the threat of rising sea waters to our key naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies see an increasingly dangerous and unstable world due to climate change. This includes violence and conflicts in places that will draw in US involvement. Climate change will also create fertile grounds for radical groups to recruit among populations who have become impoverished and driven from their lands by climate change.

The US military and intelligence leaders are experts at risk analysis, and they recognize that the existing information base on climate change is far beyond what is needed to take action. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a commander who has information from 97% of his sources about a pending catastrophic attack on his troops then demanding more information before taking action.

The US military and security agencies are not political people – they are professionals who are dedicated to providing the best information and analysis possible to decision-makers, and who have committed their lives to defending our country. That military commitment includes the men and women of the 10th Mountain Division here in District 21, who have been deployed to Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It will be a tragedy if men and women from the 10th will be asked in the future to risk their lives in conflicts linked to climate change that could have been avoided if our political leaders had shown strategic vision and political courage.

Our representative from the 21st District in the House of Representatives in Washington – Ms. Elise Stefanik – is well placed to play a leading role in fighting this danger to our national security. She has publicly stated her concerns about the serious threats of climate change. She has excellent access to the views of the military and intelligence experts, including as the Chair for the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities within the House Armed Services Committee, and as a member of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She is also a member of the new bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus of the House of Representatives.

The responsibility to promote action against this threat to our national security lies with many of us. However, Ms. Stefanik in particular can be a leader in taking this issue out of the political realm and putting it firmly in the scientific and security areas where it belongs, including insisting that we listen to our security experts. Those of us in the 21st District should strongly urge such bipartisan leadership, at a time when our country sorely needs it.

Illustration: Average Global Temperature Chart, Global Land – Ocean Temperature Index, courtesy NASA.

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Lance Clark is a former United Nations Ambassador with 35 years of experience in international work, focusing on emergency relief in conflicts, forcible displacements, early warning of conflicts, and peace operations and peacebuilding. This includes working in places such as Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Iraq, Chechnya, Georgia (former USSR), Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and other countries. He has served in the United Nations, the Refugee Policy Group, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, and the Peace Corps. He has a BA degree in History from Johns Hopkins University and a Masters in Social Psychology from Cornell University. He and his wife Nancy now live in Hague, New York.

18 Responses

  1. Phil Terrie says:


  2. Jim Fox says:

    A forthright and succinct explanation of this relationship between climatic and geopolitical/military readiness and response. Rep. Stefanik’s bipartisan role can have an international impact.

  3. James Marco says:

    Nice article. I would note that the climate change model is based on a linear progression of temps (the strongest driving component of climate change.) This has been highly influenced by ice in both arctic and antarctic areas. The phase change between ice and water creates a large synergy or “buffer” in the system that is now gone. Example: Solid ice is still solid at -50F or 32F and adding a bit more heat will not melt the whole block of ice, but only a small portion as it uses the heat to change phase. The ice is melting at normal rates. Like an ice cube in a glass of water, it melting will accelerate with higher temps (like leaving the glass in the sun) and melting will also ACCELERATE if the temperatures remain at the same higher level due to decreased mass. I believe that the temperature increase, will accelerate, not in a linear growth, but at a more exponential growth as less polar ice is available and temps keep increasing. BTW 1, 2, 3, 4,… is linear, 1, 2, 4, 16…is exponential. I believe the truth will lie somewhere between these.

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      Let’s make sure our Congresswoman reads this wonderful article. I’ll call and send a link through her website.

    • Dan Ling says:

      Thank you Mr. Clark. The role of ice in global climate is something not well understood by the lay public. As you have stated, insolation (incoming solar radiation) that falls on ice does not raise its temperature, but rather changes its phase, or melts, the ice. The energy is absorbed into the water as latent heat. In addition, ice has a high albedo, or reflectivity. Once the ice is gone, insolation is no longer is reflected back into the atmosphere or space by ice, but is absorbed by land or water and transformed into heat. Much of this heat, especially terrestrial radiation, is then re-radiated into the atmosphere, further raising global temperatures. Terrestrial glacial ice fits this scenario, and also raises sea levels. With melting pack ice, sea level is not raised (because liquid water is more dense than ice and so takes up less space), but the amount of insolation absorbed by the sea increases dramatically once the pack ice is gone, and this raises the temperature of the sea water.

      Therefore once the ice is melted, insolation which did not previously contribute to raising temperatures, then goes to work raising the temperature of the planet in multiple ways. So ice acts as a critical “buffer” to global temperatures. Once the ice is gone, the buffer disappears and warming, as well as sea level rise, accelerates (a “tipping point”).

  4. David West says:

    Mr. Clark has provided a well reasoned discussion on the peril of global warming from a new perspective. I found myself agreeing with him until his last paragraph. While the world’s scientific community are overwhelmingly behind global warming science, it is still a political issue. Until a large majority of politicians see this as an issue of concern, not much will happen, as they control our social processes.

    While I am a retired engineer and a member of the scientific community, I like to remind people that our scientific community once thought the world was flat and that it would be nearly a half century before our rivers and lake would be clean after we installed the Federally mandated pollution control measures. In the scientific community, it is easy to forget that we don’t know what we don’t know, yet.

    • Boreas says:


      Are you saying our rivers are clean now?

    • Lance Clark says:

      Dear David, Thanks for your comments. Perhaps I should have used the term “ideology” instead of “politics” as this is closer to my meaning. Thanks, Lance

  5. MRK says:

    Ms. Stefanik supports D Trump, who is presently showing a complete disregard for climate change and the environment. He has a completely negative ideology in this regard. I don’t see much hope for our future.

  6. Forrest Rivers says:

    Has there been an era when our planet was serene or perfect? Have violent high tides, extensive land erosion, massive storms and floods, drought and fire been catastrophic to our planet before we arrived? As far as I can tell, nature has forever been tumultuous to a greater or lesser degree, for better or worse without any help from us. Pardon the pun, but it is the nature of the beast. There is no permanence in nature, it ebbs and flows. I imagine had we been here we would have been blamed for causing the ice age. Is there climate change today? Yes, always have. Does human behavior engender it? Created computer models of perceived events and solutions do not give us empirical certainty. Surely, early breakthroughs in science and medicine right up through our president-day dotcom era, tell us of frontiers that were surmountable which IMPROVED THE LIVES of all living beings. Now, our audacity informs us that we can SAVE THE PLANET. But we cannot save the planet from itself or, from ourselves if it matters. What human endeavor there is that can harness the manifestations of an all-encompassing physical world? It is a noble quality to show concern for the planet and our destiny, but it can only be done within the confines of our finite abilities. (One of those abilities is in challenging those cultures where girls and women live out their lives kept and owned as property for pleasure and procreation, and where a feckless so-called United Nations remain silent. This and so much more are all within our finite abilities to help bring to an end. What will climate change solutions do to end this and numerous inhumane atrocities.) Pseudoscience — professional alarmists of every sort, such as Mr Clark — with diagrams, measurements and numbers have forever been with us and will never go away. Yes, I am an unrepentant denier of the ‘climate change’ movement that is sensationalised today. Change happens whether I like it or not. Humans may or may not be the facilitator of our demise, or, it may occur through an irresistible force that is beyond our control no matter our efforts. For that I will not live have sleepless nights.

    • Lance Clark says:

      Dear Forrest Rivers,

      Do you think the US military and our intelligence experts are professional alarmists?

    • Boreas says:

      “Humans may or may not be the facilitator of our demise, or, it may occur through an irresistible force that is beyond our control no matter our efforts.”

      Very true. So humans have the option of sitting back and waiting to see the outcome or attempting to see if the outcome can be changed.

      Ultimately we are looking at the Earth’s holding power for humans and their overall impact on the ecosphere. Not only are temperatures rising, one shouldn’t ignore the fact that population growth has been increasing at an alarming rate. Unless we develop the ability to eat dirt, even relatively minor climate shifts can have major impacts on our ability to feed our population. Large shifts mean even larger impacts. Perhaps we should try to mitigate these changes if possible and not just leave it to fate.

      • James Marco says:

        Absolutely, Dan Ling. But, unfortunately, we are beyond the tipping point. It IS accelerating, now. The NorthWest Passage will be navigable within the next 10 years. Much of Antarctic ice is or will be at lands edge over the next 10 years. Not enough time to evolve to meet the changes.

        There are a lot of factors to be considered, some of which have been left out of current climate models. They project a 9C temp rise, globally, by the end of this century. Again, I suspect it may be a lot higher. At 9 degrees, it starts moving the overall climate bands further north, looking more like South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, etc in Maine. These becomes a huge issue for those people living on the equator. It essentially becomes uninhabitable…Where do you put these people? How do you prevent wholesale migration?

  7. Oliver says:

    Thank you for your well informed article. As an engineer who has worked on air and water pollution issues, and as an educator trying to help our younger generation design buildings that will use less energy , produce less CO2 and consume less resources, I have a deeper understanding of the consequences of our actions, The young architects and engineers whom I work with are truly concerned with the climate implications. For those who continue to resist the well documented facts of climate change, I hope the younger generations that will have to live with the consequences of climate change will forgive them.


  8. bob says:

    “Climate change is real” is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural “noise”. The new Canadian government’s commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to “stopping climate change” would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

    (An open letter to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada,
    from 60 Expert Scientists): 2006

    • Boreas says:

      “We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.”

      Continuing “intensive research” does no good if you refuse to believe the results. It has been researched for 2 decades now. We can either try to help slow climate change or ignore it – those are ultimately mankind’s options. Luckily, I have no children.

  9. CommunityGuy says:

    Lots of comments here from the Party of Stupid, which is the only organization in the world that actively denies Climate Change. Although they supposedly worship the military, they deny what the military has embraced for more than 20 years – that humans are radically disrupting our climate by burning fossil fuels. Talk about Flat Earthers.

    This article says Stefanic is key. Commenters call her “Bipartisan”. Why not look at her actual record on bills that matter rather than meaningless motions with no effect? In every case that I investigated she voted against reducing fossil fuel use. The League of Conservation Voters gave her a 7% rating last year, which is bad even for a R.

    The reality of Stefanic is that she votes to protect polluting corporations at the expense of the environment.

    • Boreas says:

      And flat-earthers had a genuine lack of knowledge for a long time. But at least they believed there were consequences to sailing off the edge. These guys however – damn the torpedoes (science) – FULL SPEED AHEAD!

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