Most people think of climate
change as an environmental issue. But the potential effects on our
security, our economy and our way of life make it a far broader
challenge. It is a military readiness issue. Most crucially, it is a
To be prepared, we first require a new energy paradigm for this
country, one that reduces our dependency on foreign oil and caps our
greenhouse gas emissions.
From a national security perspective, we must understand the
consequences of a changed climate. This can act as a threat multiplier
— making already bad situations worse, often requiring humanitarian or
Droughts, floods and battles for scarce but vital natural resources in
already politically unstable areas can drive mass migrations of people,
cause civil strife and even war and take a toll on public health.
These conditions can also put at risk energy supplies that the United
States relies on and create breeding grounds for extremist behavior.
The intelligence community certainly takes such threats seriously. The
Central Intelligence Agency, for example, started the Center on Climate
Change and National Security, a small unit led by senior specialists
from the directorate of intelligence and the directorate of science and
The center’s focus is the national security impact of potentially
devastating climate effects, like desertification, rising sea levels,
population shifts and heightened competition for natural resources.
Military planners are also taking these into account in their efforts.
It is critical that the administration and Congress use the data
generated by these sources to create a national strategy to deal with
implications of climate change.
We understand it can be difficult to feel urgency about long-range
national security threats spotted by military and intelligence analysts
— though it is vitally important to do so. It may be easier, then, to
see the danger of not dealing with the economic implications of climate
The United States imports nearly 70 percent of its oil. It’s obviously
not in our national interest to be so reliant on other nations for our
While some additional domestic drilling may be warranted, it must be part of a multipronged approach.
We need a new energy future — one that puts a price on carbon, to spur
investment not only in renewable energy sources but also in safe
nuclear power, technologies to capture and store carbon emissions and
continued improvement in the fuel efficiency of our vehicles.
A national strategy that focuses on energy independence should not only
react to changes in the global climate but also put U.S. industry on
the frontlines of creating the needed innovative solutions.
There is a huge market opening up. Our dependence on foreign oil is a
threat to our economy, but failure to capture an early corner of the
market in clean energy would be far more damaging.
That is why any national strategy must include incentives for technological innovation and job creation.
The longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to respond to the
economic and security impacts of climate change. This is why we signed
a statement, along with more than two dozen other former military and
national security officials, under the banner of the Partnership for a
Secure America, calling on Congress and the administration to develop
and implement a national strategy now.
For Washington to continue on it current path is to ignore the facts at the peril of our national and economic security.
That is a price we cannot afford to pay.
Thomas Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, served as chairman
of the 9/11 Commission. Gary Hart, former Colorado senator, served as
co-chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security for
the 21st Century.