Global Climate Change Is Worsening Instability and Making It Harder to Keep the Peace

An Afghan policeman stands guard at a security checkpoint in Kabul on June 12, 2014.  Afghans head to the polls June 14 for a
An Afghan policeman stands guard at a security checkpoint in Kabul on June 12, 2014. Afghans head to the polls June 14 for a second-round election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, with the threat of Taliban attacks and fraud looming over the country's first democratic transfer of power. AFP PHOTO/SHAH Marai (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

As a young National Guard Infantry Officer in Afghanistan, I learned from my commander that "a 75 percent plan on time is always better than a 100 percent plan too late."

The fight we were engaged in was complex, but one simple fact that I observed to be true in Afghanistan applies worldwide: wherever there is hardship and instability, violent radicals and local authoritarian thugs thrived.

The battles of the 21st century have largely been waged to protect some of the world's most vulnerable populations. At every turn, the United States military has led this effort to uphold both security and stability. However, as a catalyst for conflict, global climate change is accelerating risk and will significantly increase the frequency and intensity of the demands on our armed forces.

Thankfully, the White House is taking action to combat this growing security threat. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a plan by which it will carry out its obligation to regulate carbon pollution from our country's existing power plant fleet, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in our country. This is the single largest step taken by any government to address climate risk.

From rising sea levels to increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms, to resource scarcity, the effects of climate change are already exacerbating security risks abroad and threatening our military installations here at home, putting critical infrastructure at risk.

In Pakistan, record-breaking floods in 2010 inundated more than one-sixth of the country, rendering large swaths of ungovernable territory vulnerable to recruitment efforts from extremist groups. In Syria, the historic five-year drought from 2006 to 2011 destroyed livelihoods for millions of rural farmers and herders, who then sought relief in urban centers that were not prepared to accommodate the overwhelming influx of people. When already weak central governments experience the stresses of resource competition and dramatically increased migration to urban centers, radical groups can more easily gain their footholds.

The impacts are also seen here at home. In an era of budget cuts, resources are being stretched as the National Guard is preparing for even greater roles responding to climate related disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and wildfires. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, more than 14,000 military personnel were mobilized to provide assistance to impacted communities.

Meanwhile, the threat map is expanding.

At the Halifax International Security Forum, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently asserted that the melting of polar ice caps, a result of global climate change, is enhancing, "dangerous potential for conflict in the Arctic."

What is clear is that global climate change is worsening instability and expanding the frequency of events and number of locales in which we count on our military keep the peace. The United States needs strong climate policies not only for global stability but also for our own immediate safety as well.

This is why this week's announcement is so important.

To be clear, this proposed rule isn't going to solve global climate change by itself. It certainly falls short of the full-throated, multilateral, and international efforts the United States of America is famous for taking the lead on in the post-World War II era. However, change must begin at home.

This new rule is a start in the right direction. It arrives while there's still a window, albeit a small one, to avert the most devastating and dangerous outcomes of global climate change. As many have noted, the draft rule still falls short in size and scope of the ambitious standards needed to match the urgency of this threat. Luckily, the EPA welcomes input from stakeholders across the country before proposing a final rule in June 2015.

Over the next year, we, as engaged citizens of the world's leading democracy, will have the opportunity to press for more aggressive goals to achieve greater climate benefits before the final rule is announced. This will require an active and committed response.

As a veteran I am confident that the United States military is capable of prevailing in future conflicts, whether arising from global climate instability or other causes. But like all who have served in combat, I also know the high price of victory all too well. I plan to be an advocate for these rules because through aggressive action on global climate change, we will have less need to send our men and women in uniform into harm's way.

And ultimately, with this policy the White House is sending an important message to other nations in the world: The United States recognizes that the consequences of inaction on global climate change -- both economically and militarily -- are too great to ignore. And we are once again ready to lead the world in addressing this issue, as we have done so many times before.

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