The reporter misheard what I said about America. What I actually said was: ‘Winston Churchill, who had an American mother, once said that you could always count on America to do the right thing but only after it had explored all the other options. America is still going through the process of exploring all the other options but if you looked at what was actually happening beyond Washington, in the cities and states, you could have no doubt at all that it would get there.’
CLIMATE: National security concerns could spur Hill action — ex-DOD officials?
Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2015
National security issues could be the best hope for bringing Congress in line with any agreements made at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris later this year, former military officials said today.
Speaking at an Atlantic Council panel on climate security and the Paris talks, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Daniel Chiu and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Sharon Burke said they were not optimistic that anything could get Congress to move on climate change — but national security concerns are the best bet.
“The question is critical,” Chiu said. “We know that if we can’t get Congress to move after Paris, we are going to have some real obstacles to making progress.”
Climate security issues show some promise, he said, because they present global warming as “not an issue Congress can or should ignore because it has fluffy implications they won’t see.”
“We emphasize it is an issue that has real implications on national security,” he said.
Burke said that while she hopes security is an area in which Congress “can come together and agree on investments, I would also say don’t wait for it.”
“It keeps me up at night that climate change is still a political issue in our country,” she said.
Tom Burke, chairman of the British nonprofit Third Generation Environmentalism, said the United States lags the international community in political acceptance of climate change.
“You can always count on America to do the right thing, but only after it explores every other option,” he said. “We look at Washington, D.C., and we’re not seeing anything that will make us believe America will get there to the point of having climate legislation.”
Former Virginia Sen. John Warner (R) told the panelists that the Paris talks “have the potential to move the base of public opinion in our country in a positive way.”
But, he said, he was concerned about whether Congress would be willing or able to “further foster” any Paris agreements.
Without congressional intervention, Warner said he was concerned the military would have to pick up the slack when issues like migration due to sea-level rise in Bangladesh come up.
“Who would be the first to respond to a problem there? One of our aircraft carriers,” he said.
Chiu said that he agreed with Warner’s analysis and that the United States’ reliance on its military worries the international community. During his time at the Pentagon, Chiu said, he was approached by European officials worried that the Defense Department’s energy initiatives were “militarizing” climate change.
That concern is a legitimate one, Burke said. She noted that climate change can cause humanitarian crises like food and water shortages that could turn into military conflicts. But she cautioned that using the military to solve “human security and national security” would be problematic.
While the American people overall have a respectful relationship with the military, Burke said, that is not the case in other countries where the armed forces are seen as sources of corruption or instigators of coups.
“Assigning civilian roles to the military is a slippery slope,” she said.
Even in the United States, she warned, using the military for humanitarian needs would not be sustainable because “our primary mission is to fight and win wars.”
She said broader policy changes are necessary to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Relying on the military for either would be “blunting the tool for what you need it for and also under investing in other tools of state power that could better address climate change,” she said.