President Obama spoke about climate change and national security at a 20 May commencement speech for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

“Denying [climate change], or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.”

Climate change “constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act, and we need to act now,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., on 20 May.

“If you see storm clouds gathering, or dangerous shoals ahead, you don’t sit back and do nothing. You take action—to protect your ship, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. And so, too, with climate change. Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces,” he said as he addressed the 217 cadets who received their commission as officers in the Coast Guard.

New Report Underscores National Security Implications

Obama’s remarks came on the same day that the White House issued a report about the connections between climate change and national security.

Findings from Select Federal Reports: The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate, which draws on other recent reports by the administration, states that the national security implications of climate change impacts are far-reaching within the United States and abroad. The report also says that these impacts may exacerbate existing stressors; contribute to poverty, environmental degradation, and political instability; and provide “enabling environments” for terrorist activity abroad.

Climate Change and Conflict

Obama told the cadets that their generation needs to lead the way to prepare for climate change and to prevent its worst effects in the future. He said that climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict around the world and that it could lead to a rise in “climate change refugees.”

Climate change—especially rising seas—also is a threat to Americans’ health and safety, the nation’s economic infrastructure, and homeland security, he said. In addition, Obama noted that climate change “poses a threat to the readiness of our forces.” He said that many military installations are on coasts, whereas others face the potential risk of thawing permafrost or deeper droughts and longer wildfires.

“Politicians who say they care about military readiness ought to care about this as well,” Obama said.

“Fighting climate change and using energy wisely also makes our [military] forces more nimble and more ready. And that’s something that should unite us as Americans,” Obama said. “This cannot be subject to the usual politics and the usual rhetoric. When storms gather, we get ready.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), Obama links climate change to national and global security, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO030045. Published on 21 May 2015.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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