A Senator's One-Fingered Salute to America's Military Leaders

We have to wonder how long reasonable Republicans will allow the irrational and unprincipled members of their party to continue ruining its reputation.

There was Karl Rove's very personal innuendo this week about the condition of Hillary Clinton's brain, a comment that said far more about Rove's lack of character than it did about Clinton's health.

Then there was Sen. James Inhofe's insult of the military leaders and security experts who made it known recently that they regard global warming as a national security threat not only on par with terrorism, but actually causing it.


Let's review. In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest assessment of climate science, concluding that "Warming of the climate is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia." Note that the IPCC referred not to computer models, but to "observed changes".

The same month, the Pentagon's latest Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) concluded that there is now a direct link between terrorism and climate disruptions like sea-level rise and drought. The Pentagon wrote:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions - conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Note how many times the Pentagon used the word "will" rather than "may."

In May, federal scientists issued their latest national climate assessment, concluding "Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present." Observed changes in climate worldwide, they reported, "provide compelling evidence that increasing temperatures are affecting both ecosystems and human society."

Note that they said observed changes, not predictions.

Then earlier this week, a panel of prestigious former senior military leaders who called climate change a "threat multiplier" in 2007 issued a new finding that climate disruption has become a "catalyst for conflict". In plainer English, climate change not only increases the chances of conflict, it is causing conflict around the world now.

Inhofe's response? He was quoted in the New York Times: "There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer."

Actually, there is no one in more pursuit of peace than the retired military officers who dedicated their careers to keeping America safe. The 16 who Inhofe insulted set a more dignified and patriotic tone in their new report. In a letter introducing their findings, they wrote:

We are dismayed that discussions of climate change have become so polarizing and have receded from the arena of informed public discourse and debate. Political posturing and budgetary woes cannot be allowed to inhibit discussion and debate over what so many believe to be a salient national security concern for our nation. Each citizen must ask what he or she can do individually to mitigate climate change, and collectively what his or her local, state, and national leaders are doing to ensure that the world is sustained for future generations.

Are your communities, businesses and governments investing in the necessary resilience measures to lower the risks associated with climate change? In a world of high complex interdependence, how will climate change in the far corners of the world affect your life and those of your children and grandchildren? If the answers to any of these questions make you worried or uncomfortable, we urge you to become involved. Time and tide wait for no one.

Let's hope that the tide soon washes away not only skepticism, but also the skeptics who for one reason or another refuse to accept reality. When they occupy leadership positions in government and block responsible action, they are as much a threat to national security as the climate disruptions they ridicule.

Which is to say, when we connect the dots, sending them packing is one of our most important national security priorities.