Climate change is not a national security threat

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Climate change is not a national security threat

Jun 4th, 2015 2 min read
Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D.

Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations

Ted Bromund studies Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration released its latest blast on climate change: a cut-and-paste job from its own reports proclaiming that climate change has serious national security implications. This is embarrassingly shoddy stuff. But it's shoddy for a reason.

Now, nothing says credibility like a pile of old federal reports. But these reports do seem like scary stuff: rising sea levels, wildfires, refugees, and a lot more. It reminds me of the scene in "Ghostbusters," when Bill Murray tells the mayor that, if he doesn't let the team go, dogs and cats will be living together.

But get serious. Just for the sake of it, I'm going to assume that climate change is really happening, and that it's really caused by people. Even if that's true, climate change still isn't a national security issue.

Here's why: national security problems aren't caused by climate, changing or not. They're caused by what people do. And people don't do things because it's getting hotter, or colder. They do things because of what they believe. The problem is never weather: it's always ideology.

The White House's report argues that climate change is "contributing" -- note the weasel word -- to "conflicts over basic resources like food and water." There's no evidence of this. But fundamentally, wars aren't caused by natural resources like food, water, or even oil.

Did Japan decide to attack Pearl Harbor because it was running out of oil? No. It waged war because it believed that war was the way to get what it wanted. What drove Japan wasn't a shortage of oil. It was a surplus of fanaticism.

Saying natural resources cause conflicts isn't merely shallow. It's wrong. It deprives people of their moral agency. It attributes the decisions they make to outside forces beyond their control. Like crime, wars are caused by people. Banks don't cause bank robberies: Bank robbers cause bank robberies.

If food's running short -- not that there's any evidence it is -- the answer isn't inevitably to go to war. You could plant different crops. You could use genetically modified seeds. You could trade for food. The idea that climate change leads directly from food shortages to war assumes away the decision to fight.

Most of the administration's claims are mere hand-waving. The nine-line pull quote from the Pentagon is peppered with assertions that a changing climate "could" or "may" make a difference. More weasel words. By that standard, poorly marked pedestrian crosswalks "could" be a national security threat.

The White House also trots out the claim that climate change "could" cause enormous refugee flows. Right now, the biggest refugee crisis in the world, with 3 million refugees, is in Syria, where Iranian expansion, abetted by administration fecklessness, is clashing with Sunni radicalism.

In the face of that disaster, the White House's blather about the role of climate change in creating refugees is obscene. I'll tell you what puts refugees in Syria on the road: being choked with chlorine gas, being attacked with a barrel bomb, or being targeted by Sunni death squads. Not climate change.

But this folly has a point. If climate change is a national security threat, then the Obama administration can claim that any rule the Environmental Protection Agency imposes, and any international climate agreement the White House negotiates, is justified in the name of national security.

So the point of this isn't to protect us. It's to justify taxing, regulating, and controlling us. It's about making us poorer and less free. Calling that a contribution to our security is an insult to our intelligence.

 - Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Originally appeared in Newsday