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A Times Editorial

The climate challenge to U.S. security

The assessment couldn't be more stark. Get a handle on climate change or our national security is at risk. That is what experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are saying as they warn that the United States will face serious climate-induced international security challenges over the next 20 or 30 years unless global warming is curbed.

The effects of climate change and rising global temperatures are already apparent, but as conditions worsen and the world experiences rising sea levels, violent storms, extreme flooding and prolonged droughts, there will be myriad humanitarian crises. Pandemics, food and water shortages and the destruction of infrastructure are part of an almost apocalyptic picture painted by military and intelligence analysts who see these disasters leading to mass migrations, spikes in hunger and poverty, emboldened terrorist groups and the weakening of national governments.

Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command, wrote in a military advisory report: "We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms."

According to a national intelligence assessment, climate-induced disasters around the world will result in "demands" that may "significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture."

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over a cap-and-trade bill that would put limits on carbon emissions. It is this country's first responsible effort to address global warming as well as our unhealthy dependence on foreign oil. Yet it only narrowly passed the House in June and will be debated in the Senate next month, where its prospects are uncertain at best.

With Pentagon hawks taking up the banner of reducing greenhouse gases, Republicans and Democrats from coal- and oil-producing states should find their resistance to cap-and-trade more difficult to maintain. Holdout senators may find it easy to ignore warnings of the scientific community, but they will find it uncomfortable to tell top military officials their policy assessments on climate change and American security risks are overblown.

As Gov. Charlie Crist backs away from his leadership on greenhouse gas reduction in an effort to appear more conservative to Republican primary voters in his bid for the U.S. Senate, he should keep the Pentagon's new posture in mind. Will he be on the side of America's military and national security, or not? That is the new climate change question.

The climate challenge to U.S. security 08/16/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 10:24pm]
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