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Number One Global Security Issue Is Climate Change

Will it take a climate catastrophe to mobilize legislators to action?

In recent years, US leaders finally categorized climate change as a global threat on the order of weapons of mass destruction. Since then, the bad news surrounding climate change has gotten considerably worse.

We are, as Eric Holthaus just wrote for Rolling Stone, at the point of no return. He offers many telltale signs, ecological and environmental, some familiar and others not.

But perhaps the most decisive finding is the rate of climatic change, “unprecedented for at least the past 1,000 years” according to five scientists with the Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in College Park, Maryland. Their study, like many others, urges immediate mitigating actions with the caution that even positive efforts will not have much impact before mid-century.

As he enters his last year of office, President Obama’s characterization of the threat posed by climate change has become quite dramatic and shrill. He told Coast Guard Academy graduates in May: “I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to national security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”

Then, on August 2, introducing his plan to curb climate change and promote his clean power plan, he said that “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future, and to future generations, than a changing climate.”

There is good reason for linking climate change to international security. Climate change impacts every major international security issue, as Keith Johnson shows in a recent article for Foreign Policy.

In the South China Sea dispute, for example, the contested islands have the potential not only to yield significant amounts of oil and gas, but also tobecome inundated before very long. Hence China’s land reclamation project, which in the end may be a huge waste of time and money. Environmental refugees within countries and across borders have become commonplace. The looming fight over the Arctic’s resources as the ice melts; the worldwide water crisis, affecting every country whether wealthy or poor; the shift of weather patterns that will impact food supplies; the warming of oceans and the consequences for fishing – these and many more changes are in motion now, and all have serious potential for conflict between nations.

The sooner we understand the interconnection between climate change and security, the faster we can get our priorities straight. It’s not a matter of putting the other security issues on the back burner; it’s just that climate change is the most urgent matter for all species. As the President said, “we’re the last generation that can do something about it.” Other dangers will linger for a long time, but “there is such a thing as being too late when it comes toclimate change.”

Will it take a climate catastrophe to mobilize legislators to action? Will John Kerry, having denounced the “tiny minority of shoddy scientists … and extreme ideologues” who question global warming, now do the right thing and reject the Keystone XL fracking plan? Will the Obama administration finally display leadership at the next international conference on global warming? Stay tuned.

I’m not optimistic; the time to act decisively is exceedingly short, and Obama’s maneuvering room on environmental issues is limited by the RepublicanDeniers and I’m No Scientists. But I believe each of us must do what we can and not let the daily bad news immobilize us. Let’s support organizations that have a proven track record on the environment, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Rainforest Alliance, and groups in your immediate area that are keeping the predators at bay.

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