At an event today headed by James Woolsey, former CIA director, and Wayne Gilchrest, former Congressman (R-MD), climate change was addressed as an important national security problem facing America. The two men spoke at length about the challenges of forming a consensus on climate change, how climate change is a national security issue, and what can be done about it.
ASP is encouraged when climate change is pointed out as a national security threat. For more detailed information about the threat, see ASP’s comprehensive Climate Security Report, which emphasizes both the global and the international range of the threat. Our reports on Climate Change, The Arab Spring and Food Prices, Military Basing and Climate Change, and Offshore Oil Drilling in the Arctic offer analysis of specific areas of concern.
Mr. Woolsey first acknowledged the lack of middle ground in the climate change debate, pointing out the wide gulf between people who want to see action on climate change and climate change deniers. But he said that if humans do not deal with the problem human activity has caused, it will act as an accelerant of conflict around the world.
Mr. Woolsey said the effects of climate change could create positive feedback loops where effects make climate change worse. For example: permafrost, which holds a trillion tons of carbon under its surface. As global averages temperatures increase, the permafrost melts and releases carbon as methane gas into the atmosphere, creating a positive feedback loop when the process increases the temperature even more and the permafrost lets out more gas.
After citing specific examples, Mr. Woolsey said he believes more Americans will respond to the climate change issue if it is framed as a national security issue, an environmental issue, and a price issue. If Americans save money by using renewable fuels or less energy, policymakers can effect change.
He also spoke about the need to protect energy infrastructure by bringing it closer to where people live. He suggested distributed generation to supply energy locally because it makes the grid less vulnerable to disruptions. And he noted that the grid affects military bases as much as civilians during disruptions, a threat that highlights how energy issues play a role in national security.
Former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest highlighted the challenges the nation faces regarding the climate change debate. He spoke primarily about how ignorance and apathy are dangerous forces that undermine the seriousness of the issue. Mr. Gilchrest said that in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the Ghost of Christmas Present presents Scrooge with two miserable children; the boy is called “ignorance” and the girl is “want”. He cautions that the little boy is to be feared the most.
With that reference to 19th century English literature, the former Congressman showed that the issue is to a large extent an issue of education. He says that it is important to wield education as a tool to combat ignorance and it is vital that leaders in government, business, and the national security community step forward to educate the American public.
The panel event was hosted by the Partnership for a Secure America (PSA), which announced the release of an open letter urging action on climate change.