Ask What You Can Do for Your Country: Combating Climate Threats to Our National Security

Afghani men gather near the road as a military convoy by soldiers from the 1st Platoon, 1-64 Armoured Batallion, US Army - op
Afghani men gather near the road as a military convoy by soldiers from the 1st Platoon, 1-64 Armoured Batallion, US Army - operating under NATO - roll-past security patrols at Morghan-Kecha village in Daman district, Kandahar on September 6, 2012. The Taliban are involved in a quarter of Afghan security personnel attacks on NATO colleagues, according to a military commander. The surge of assaults, unprecedented in modern warfare, have seen Afghan troops opening fire on their NATO colleagues more than 30 times this year, killing at least 45 foreign troops -- most of them Americans. US Lieutenant General James Terry, head of the NATO-led coalition's joint command in Afghanistan, said about 25 to 26 percent of the attacks were 'insurgent-related'. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/GettyImages)

Growing conflicts over water and food, refugees fleeing storm-battered regions, and other impacts of climate change-related events worldwide threaten our nation's security. They also put our soldiers in harm's way, just as transporting fuels in war-torn regions has led to the injury or death of hundreds of soldiers each year. These are just a few of the reasons the U.S. must jumpstart its transition to a safer, renewable energy economy.

As retired general officers with more than 65 years of combined service, we believe President Obama must lead efforts to tackle runaway climate change. The Department of Defense and many current and former military leaders have warned climate change and its effects will increase economic and political instability worldwide. It will also create hardships and conflicts that threaten our nation's security. These conflicts will result in preventable deaths of many U.S. soldiers and civilians. We proudly join him in combatting this threat by hosting a solutions-focused climate summit, followed by action-focused planning meetings in U.S. communities nationwide.

The stress will be greatest on those who have dedicated their lives to preserving and protecting freedom and U.S. interests worldwide. The first-ever climate summit and satellite meetings will identify pragmatic solutions to end the political paralysis and so-called scientific "debate" that have prevented action to slow climate change thus far.

These events will give our Armed Forces colleagues, faith and labor group leaders, farmers' unions, insurance and other industry executives an opportunity to join our Commander-in-Chief in implementing proven solutions to this crisis.

The goal is to put President Obama's clear inaugural message about climate change into action. The United States must invest more in its physical infrastructure to become more resilient to climate impacts like extreme weather, while quickly reducing our carbon emissions and shifting to safer, renewable energy. These steps will go a long way toward strengthening our national security at home and abroad.

Our military is the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world. Procuring, transporting and protecting that fuel jeopardizes thousands of servicemen and women, as well as civilians: "A 2009 study by the Army Environmental Policy Institute reported that between 2003 and 2007, more than 3,000 U.S. troop and contractor deaths or injuries were attributable to enemy attacks on fuel supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan." A June 2012 Congressional Research Service report concluded that even as the DoD slightly reduced its use of oil, petroleum costs ballooned roughly 380 percent from 2005 ($4.5 billion) to 2011 ($17.3 billion). As Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said during a 2012 budget hearing: "We would be irresponsible if we did not reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Moreover, many of America's military bases at home and abroad face substantial risks from both rising sea levels and increasingly severe, frequent storms. While the military has already begun a robust climate risk management plan and program, military bases are still not safe from extreme weather damage. A single hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake could severely damage essential bases, and significant national defense systems.

By investing in biofuels, as well as using more solar and renewable power, U.S. military leaders are moving in the right direction. But we need to work together on more aggressive, widespread and faster action by many groups nationwide. Beating climate change means uniting individuals and institutions from the top and bottom, left and right, military and civil societies. We've done it before, and the president's Climate Summit, linked to regional meetings held by cities, businesses, religious and other organizations, will allow us to work together again toward a shared goal -- protecting ourselves from the current and future impacts of climate change.

Lt. Gen. Norm Seip retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2009, after 35 years of active duty service. He now consults for non-profits on climate and energy security issues.

Retired Brigadier General Steven M. Anderson is a 31-year Army veteran, who served as chief of logistics for multinational forces in Iraq from 2006-2007. He is now chief marketing officer for Relyant in Knoxville, TN.