A military police officer walks by a gate destroyed by Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Retired military and national security leaders say that climate change threatens military bases. Pictured, a military police officer walks near a destroyed gate at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in October 2018. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Pushback against the administration’s reported plans to establish a National Security Council (NSC) panel or committee led by a climate change skeptic to reassess climate science grew louder on Monday when 58 senior retired military and national security leaders opposed the plan in a letter to President Donald Trump.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that National Security Council officials are considering forming a committee to dispute and undermine military and intelligence judgments on the threat posed by climate change,” states the letter. Signers include former secretary of state John Kerry, former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, retired Army general Stanley McChrystal, and others.

Undermining Threat Assessments

“Imposing a political test on reports issued by the science agencies, and forcing a blind spot onto the national security assessments that depend on them, will erode our national security.”

“Imposing a political test on reports issued by the science agencies, and forcing a blind spot onto the national security assessments that depend on them, will erode our national security,” the letter cautions. “It is dangerous to have national security analysis conform to politics. Our officials’ job is to ensure that we are prepared for current threats and future contingencies. We cannot do that if the scientific studies that inform our threat assessments are undermined.”

The letter, which was issued jointly by the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Climate and Security and the American Security Project, came in response to a draft White House executive order to establish a Presidential Committee on Climate Security. The committee’s exact form has not yet been made public. However, according to the draft order, the committee would include William Happer, a prominent climate change skeptic who is deputy assistant to the president for emerging technologies. The order notes that the committee would advise the president through Happer.

The letter opposing the panel calls climate change a threat multiplier that worsens other security threats, and it warns about climate change threats to military bases. The letter notes, for instance, that while Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina suffered $3.6 billion in damage from Hurricane Florence in 2018, climate change forecasts call for stronger storms and storm surges.

“We write to you as former US national security leaders to offer our support to our uniformed military, civilian national security professionals, and members of the scientific community, who across the past four Administrations have found that climate change is a threat to US national security. Climate change is real, it is happening now, it is driven by humans, and it is accelerating,” the letter notes.

The letter follows on other criticism of the planned panel, including a 28 February letter to the president from the chairs of four House committees. That letter stated that “the decision to convene this NSC panel represents yet another action by your Administration in a line of many that run counter to the overwhelming scientific consensus on the causes and impacts of climate change.” That letter also charges that Happer is “not an expert on climate, and his statements on climate change have been repeatedly debunked by actual climate scientists.”

“A Clear Political Stunt”

The draft order sounds innocuous, stating that the committee shall, through Happer, “advise the President on the scientific understanding of today’s climate and how it might change in the future under natural and human influences, including increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, and how a changing climate could affect the security of the United States in order to accurately inform national security decisions.”

“This is not some benign fact-finding committee they are setting up. This is a clear political stunt.”

Andrew Holland, chief operating officer at the American Security Project, told Eos that if the committee operated “in a good faith effort to determine what the national security impacts [of climate change] are, then I would have no problem with it.”

Holland said, however, that “the important thing will be what’s the makeup of the committee and is it going to have any sort of public record. And we just don’t know. All indications are that Happer and the White House don’t want an actual scientific committee that seeks the truth. They are looking for a preconceived outcome that the president wants.”

He added, “This is not some benign fact-finding committee they are setting up. This is a clear political stunt.”

“A Veneer of Scientific Credibility”

“Our national security analysis is being pressured to conform to politics.”

“The main thing that we are concerned about is that our national security analysis is being pressured to conform to politics,” Francesco Femia, cofounder of the Center for Climate and Security, told Eos.

Femia said the committee likely is being established because federal science agencies and the administration’s own National Climate Assessment, released in 2018, have contradicted the White House message about climate change. “That has annoyed people in the White House. So they want to produce some alternative messages, and this panel is their way of doing that with a veneer of scientific credibility.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer


Showstack, R. (2019), Former officials slam planned White House climate change panel, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO117933. Published on 06 March 2019.

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