Describing Obama’s Clean Power Plan as a “war” on coal is one thing. But denying the brave Americans who fight actual wars the tools they need to plan for scientific reality? That’s taking party-over-country political rhetoric a step too far.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) recently took that step. Cheney was the only member of the House Armed Services Committee to speak against an amendment to the proposed national defense bill that would recognize climate change as a “direct threat to the national security” and enable the military to plan accordingly.
Is she staging a counter offensive: Coal’s war on military preparedness?
Representatives of coal-states like Wyoming largely get away with scientifically indefensible climate change denial. It’s understood that they’re trying to pump up the powerful fossil fuels industries that both dominate their states’ economies and fill campaign coffers. Many of their constituents feel that their survival is tied to that of the coal industry. Thus, threats posed by pollution standards and global market forces are felt personally. Give ‘em some room, goes the thinking, let Cheney and her coal beholden colleagues spout their nonsense.
But even congressional Republicans — every single one on the committee except Cheney — recognize that climate change has a potentially huge impact on our military’s ability to protect our national security. It’s already affecting available resources, readiness and how military leaders conduct strategic threat assessments. Our fighting men and women don’t have the luxury of baseless debate. They’re too busy preparing for an all-too-predictable future.
“There are real changes in the Arctic that do affect the Navy,” said Rep. Jim Bridenstine, (R-Oklahoma.) “The arctic ice is disappearing, there are strategic changes that are being implicated here and it is important for the Department of Defense to report to Congress.”
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-Rhode Island), amended the National Defense Authorization Act to include a report that instructs each military service to list its top 10 military installations most threatened by rising sea levels, drought and thawing permafrost over the next 20 years. It also asks for the costs of mitigating those climate change impacts.
“I know there are many individuals on the other side of the aisle who don’t want to talk about climate change, or don’t believe it’s man-made, [but] we’re not even getting into what the causes are,” Langevin told The Kansas City Star. “We have to deal with it. We can’t just put our heads in the sand and hope it’s going to go away.”
But Cheney strenuously objected to Langevin’s amendment. “We have heard testimony in front of this committee consistently about the array of imminent threats we face … the Russians, Chinese, ISIS, al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea. … There is simply no way that you can argue that climate change is one of those threats. Not even close. There is no evidence that climate change causes war.”
Cheney said, “If you look at the refugee flows that are often cited — for example refugee flows across Syria and Iraq are greatest today — people are not leaving their home because they are too hot. North Korea is not developing nuclear tipped ICBMs because the climate’s changing. ISIS and al Qaeda are not attacking the West because of the weather.”
She concluded: “We shouldn’t take steps that impose additional requirements based on political issues, and in my view that’s exactly what this one is.”
By following the example of President Trump, who has called climate change “a hoax created by and for the Chinese” to hurt U.S. manufacturing, she’s in some pretty bad company.
Cheney supported the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, claiming it imposed emissions standards “that would have devastated America’s fossil fuel industry with no measurable impact on the climate.”
“The agreement was based on flawed science and its purpose was to kill our coal industry,” she said. “President Trump was right to pull out of this damaging agreement. While the benefits of [his] decision will continue to be felt in Wyoming in the form of increased energy development, exploration and job creation, our work is not finished.”
Climate scientists dispute her first point, economists and energy market experts challenge the second.
Even some of Trump’s hand picked team disagree with Cheney. At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, “Climate change can be a driver of instability, and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”
“The New West” environmental columnist Todd Wilkinson of Bozeman, Montana, recently dissected Cheney’s wild-eyed skepticism about the link between climate change and our military security by contrasting it with the approach of senior leadership within the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines who have collaborated with scientific experts from several federal agencies to examine the national security consequences of climate change.
Wilkinson said Cheney’s claim conveniently ignores the record of human history and current world events. “It reveals her inability to grasp cause-and-effect, including her willful ongoing denial of scientific evidence showing that the burning of fossil fuels by humans is generally warming the planet,” he wrote. “Maybe most telling, Cheney’s opinions stand in sharp contrast with those of top U.S. military commanders going back 25 years.”
“Climate-related droughts causing water and food shortages heighten human misery and can cause the kind of social instability that leads to terrorism,” Wilkinson wrote. “Rising seas create millions of environmental refugees. Other kinds of climate-related natural disasters can increase outbreaks of deadly diseases spreading to areas of the globe, including North America, where previously they had been absent.”
Scientists estimate that rising sea levels threaten at least 128 U.S. military bases and installations, nine of which are major hubs for the U.S. Navy. Waterfront military installations are facing hundreds of floods a year, and some could be mostly submerged by 2100, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Wilkinson suggested that the House Armed Services Committee call Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who oversaw the military’s Central Command, as a witness. Zinni wrote in an analysis, “We will pay for this [climate change] one way or another. 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. And that will involve human lives.”
Cheney will likely keep grandstanding about how climate change is a plot to ruin the economy of coal states like ours. But she needs to listen to military experts, not Trump, when it comes to evaluating the enormous risks climate change poses to the security of the entire world.
Other Republican representatives understand what’s at stake. Why can’t Cheney?