Take a look around the world. Everywhere you turn you'll find a geopolitical mess at the intersection of energy, climate change, and global security. From airstrikes on oil fields and refineries in Iraq and Syria controlled by the Islamic State to natural gas crises in Ukraine and the European Union compromising negotiations with Vladimir Putin to flooding in heavily disputed Kashmir, the stakes for our energy and climate future have never been higher.
Concerns like these are what brought hundreds of thousands of climate activists to New York to voice their support for climate action. They were joined by more than 125 other heads of state, more than 100 CEOs from businesses all over the world like McDonald's and Ikea, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo.
There's just one problem: Without your help, none of it will matter.
It's been more than two decades since the United States helped negotiate the first climate change treaty, which was never ratified by Congress. Since then, the record of international climate agreements has been abysmal. Talks in the The Hague fell short in 2000, Copenhagen negotiations collapsed in 2009, and Durban disappointed in 2011. Over and over, the leaders of countries have proved unable or unwilling to tackle our biggest climate challenges.
That's increasingly a problem for global security, according to our military leaders. As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly volatile, we can expect that natural disasters will only escalate in number and intensity. Disasters like Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines leave already vulnerable populations in even more dire need for basic goods and services- things which their governments are often unable to provide.
The problem is not unique to the Philippines -- one instigating factor of the genocide in Darfur was the severe drought that ravaged the land historically shared between nomadic Arab herdsmen and indigenous famers. The competition over shrinking resources for grazing and farming contributed to a massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
In short, climate change is a catalyst of conflict, exacerbating already unstable situations in deeply divided societies. Terrorist organizations view natural disasters as opportunities to recruit and radicalize these populations when they are most vulnerable. As a result, climate-driven crises pose an acute national security threat to the United States, forcing our men and women in uniform to respond to natural disasters around the world and diverting them from the military's primary objectives -- keeping us safe and winning wars.
We know the only way to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change in the future is to make serious investments in clean energy technology and deployment today. Of course, you won't be surprised to learn that Congress hasn't been very helpful. Since comprehensive climate legislation failed in 2009, Congress has been more harmful than helpful to the clean energy sector. That hasn't stopped clean energy companies here at home from adding nearly 80,000 jobs and 80 percent of new power capacity in 2013. But as long as the national political scene is a partisan swamp, working out the dynamics for international negotiations will be an immense challenge.
We need to change the way we power our economies, turning to renewable sources, efficiency, demand response, electricity storage, and a host of other technologies and business models that will reduce our carbon emissions. We need a vibrant, dynamic clean energy economy that is providing for the enormous energy needs of developed countries like our own and bring solar power to emerging economies, like climate-conflict ravaged Mali.
The real action is happening in states, cities and local communities. One decidedly positive thing did happen in New York last month: more than 200 cities signed a "Compact of Mayors" laying out specific targets and strategies for reducing their carbon emissions. As Mayor Bill de Blasio noted in his opening speech, "the energy we use in our homes, schools, workplaces, stores and public facilities accounts for nearly three-quarters of our contribution to climate change. But we can upgrade our buildings to make them more energy efficient and reduce these emissions. With this work, we can make our homes more affordable, improve the quality of our air and create a thriving market for energy efficiency and renewable energy-with new jobs and new businesses."
Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, a Republican and retired Marine, is leading his city to become the first to get its entire vehicle fleet off oil. He's turning to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, because he's concerned our dependence on oil compromises our national security. You can push your city leaders to do the same. Companies like American Efficient are helping businesses and consumers make more informed energy choices, and services like Ride Scout can help you identify the best form of public transportation for where you need to go.
By taking action, you'll be driving the demand for the clean energy economy we need. After seeing decades of half-measures and halting negotiations, it's clear that solutions will have to be community-driven.