Guest Column
What’s it worth to our national security to take the lead on on fighting climate change? | Column
Extreme weather has contributed to conflict and has led to the displacement of 30 million people from their homes.
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Nov. 10, en route to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to attend COP 27. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Nov. 10, en route to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to attend COP 27. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel) [ JESS RAPFOGEL | AP ]
Published Nov. 18, 2022

Today, we face an array of converging global climate crises that impact the health, security and economic interests of all Americans. Whether it’s record-breaking heatwaves in Europe, historically severe droughts in the Horn of Africa, torrential rainfall and flooding in Pakistan, wildfires along the West Coast or, most recently, hurricanes that wreaked havoc across Florida — especially in Central and Southwest Florida — it’s clear that without urgent action climate change will continue to lead to devastating economic and national security consequences.

Marty Steele
Marty Steele [ Provided ]

Climate change is a global issue felt locally, impacting the livelihood of Americans and Floridians — as millions begin the long road to recovery from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

In an increasingly interconnected world, climate-related threats and disasters know no borders and are causing national security challenges all over the world. Amid rising sea levels and devastating storms, climate change is quickly becoming a dominant force endangering our lives.

Furthermore, decreased biodiversity and crop sustainability has led to a global food catastrophe exacerbating rising food prices, political instability and conflict in the developing world, and a drastic increase in climate refugees — all of which threaten global and national security.

For years, military leaders have been sounding the alarm about the national security challenges presented by climate change. As a proud member of the U.S. Marine Corps, it was an honor to serve my country all over the world for over 34 years, and I know firsthand that investing in development and diplomacy programs will protect the lives and livelihoods of Americans in the face of climate shocks.

The Pentagon has described the effects of climate change as “threat multipliers” and as catalysts for conflict. Throughout the developing world, the effects of climate change are already creating greater instability in fragile and emerging countries and markets. Extreme weather has contributed to conflict and has led to the displacement of 30 million people from their homes. By 2050, more than 143 million people could be driven from their homes by conflict over food and water insecurity and climate-driven natural disasters.

Climate change isn’t a security threat that only threatens other countries; it affects us here at home. Rising sea levels threaten property, the homes that Floridians live in, all along the shore. Damages to Florida real estate are estimated to reach $66 billion by 2100 if nothing changes in how our nation responds to the climate crisis. Nationally, by 2070, an estimated 4 million Americans will be living in conditions ill-suited to sustaining human life. Along with rising sea levels, high powered hurricanes, violent flooding, an expanding tornado season, rampant forest fires, and drought can lead to health threats and displacement, creating domestic crises and instability.

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I know that America’s leadership in development and diplomacy abroad protects American citizens. This is true whether the U.S. is providing diplomatic forces to curb global instability or when facing climate-related security threats. Investing in diplomatic efforts helps reduce America’s need to send troops abroad, protecting the lives of those who serve. Providing humanitarian aid and development efforts along with security support is how America protects its citizens against national climate and security threats. It is our leadership across the diplomatic and security landscape that demonstrates strength in times of crisis.

Leaders from around the world are gathered in Egypt for COP 27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and call for collective action to address climate change on a global scale. It is vitally important that America commits to bold and rapid collaboration to address the security needs arising from the global climate crisis. This requires investing in our development and diplomacy tools, and I urge Florida’s congressional delegation to support a fully funded International Affairs Budget to defend America’s interests. Leadership in times of crisis is complex, but I know we can do this. America wins by leading globally. And when America wins, Florida wins.

Lt. Gen. Marty Steele served as deputy chief of staff for plans, policies and operations, U.S. Marine Corps (‘97-’99), is globally recognized expert in all elements of national power, and has been a Tampa Bay area resident for 20 years. He is also a member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition National Security Advisory Council.