They will listen to the generals, and admirals, for that matter. That was the bipartisan thinking a dozen years ago at the founding of the American Security Project. John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Gary Hart and Warren Rudman wanted to add a persuasive voice to the discussion about climate change.
The lineup at the organization isn’t entirely retired military officers. It includes politicians and business leaders. The military component reflects the long understanding at the Pentagon about the threat posed by climate change to national security — and the need to respond, either through adaptation or taking steps to curb the fallout.
The Defense Department knows. It is the country’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, the driver of a warming planet and changing climate.
That is the message Stephen Cheney brought to the Akron Roundtable and other stops in Northeast Ohio last week. The retired Marine Corps brigadier general has been the chief executive at the American Security Project since 2011. He describes the mission as “working” Capitol Hill and the country about the connection between climate and security.
Cheney takes audiences on a tour of places already affected. We visit Lake Chad, which has lost 90 percent of its water the past 50 years, disrupting millions of lives in Niger, Nigeria and other neighboring countries. The conditions have been ripe for exploitation by the notorious Boko Haram.
The extended drought in Syria didn’t launch the devastating civil war. It contributed, climate change an “accelerant,” according to Cheney, the migration of many to Aleppo aggravating the instability, playing to the brutality of Bashar Assad and the Islamic State.
Cheney sees Bangladesh as the “poster child” for the convergence. Officials there view as certain a rise in the sea level displacing 20 million to 30 million people. They must have a place to go.
What does this have to do with American interests? Cheney recalls the question posed a few years ago to Admiral Samuel Locklear, now retired, then the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, about the major threats in the region. Locklear put climate change at the top, alert to its capacity for upheaval, requiring the presence of American forces.
According to Cheney, the expectation is that the American base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is “going under water. That’s baked in.” Which raises the question of redeploying assets. Where do they land? Cheney cites the Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., its piers already elevated yet the base still with chronic flooding.
The American Security Project website includes projections about how climate change may affect each state. Ohio faces heavier rainfall and thus more flooding. The likelihood of short-term droughts heightens the odds of diminished crop and dairy yields. (Cows don’t like heat stress, either.) Water levels in Lake Erie are projected to decline, reducing shipping, not to mention tourism and recreation.
Algal blooms thrive in warmer waters, as their recent escalation in Lake Superior reminds.
Cheney harbors hope, even in this Trumpian moment, the president cheering “clean coal,” which Cheney finds “an oxymoron,” adding “there’s no such thing.” The general points to the Paris climate accord and the Clean Power Plan as achievements to which the country could return. He notes the recent defense authorization bill saw many Republican senators permitting language that orders the Pentagon to study further the effects of climate change.
One day last year, all of Texas was powered by renewables. The South Carolina plant where workers assemble the Boeing Dreamliner is powered entirely by solar. There is economic growth and job creation in an energy transition.
“We know we can fix this,” says Cheney. Missing is the required sense of urgency, not to mention American leadership, the planet on a path to a catastrophic 4° or 5° Celsius increase.
“I am not a Chicken Little guy. ‘The sky is falling. The sky is falling,’” Cheney said toward the end of our conversation. “But it is. It is clouding up with CO2 and it’s cooking. … We’ve done it. We’ve done it to ourselves. We know what’s causing this. C’mon, guys, get with it.”
Let’s listen to the general.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514 or email@example.com.