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Defense Secretary: 'Climate Change Has a Dramatic Impact on National Security

"...the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (Photo: DOD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Tuesday evening Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke at an Environmental Defense Fund event that was honoring the Department of Defense for green initiatives. In his speech, Panetta highlighted of how "climate and environmental change are emerging as national security threats" that "weigh heavily" on the Pentagon's strategies.

Here's some of what Panetta said from the Department's posted statement:

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” Panetta said here at a reception hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund to honor the Defense Department in advancing clean energy initiatives. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Panetta said.

Panetta cited the melting of Arctic ice in renewing a longstanding call for the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. More than 150 nations have accepted the treaty, which has been in force since the early 1990s, and a succession of U.S. government administrations have urged ratification.

Among other things, the convention would guarantee various aspects of passage and overflight for the U.S. military. Panetta urged his audience to use their influence to push for treaty ratification. “We are the only industrialized nation that has not approved that treaty,” he said.

In his speech, Panetta pointed to the need for increased efficiency with rising fuel costs and budget shortages. According to the release, DoD spent $15 billion on fuel last year for military efforts. Panetta expressed the department would be investing more than a billion dollars in the next fiscal year for more efficient systems including aircraft and aircraft engines, hybrid electric drives for ships, improved generators, microgrids for combat bases and combat vehicles.

“We are investing another billion dollars to make our installations here at home more energy-efficient, and we are using them as the test bed to demonstrate next-generation energy technologies," he said.

More specifically, National Defense Magazine calls out Panetta's recent signing of a plan March 9 that sets targets for “transforming the way U.S. armed forces consume energy in military operations":

These battlefield-focused energy initiatives aim to cut back on fuel demand in war zones as supply lines into Afghanistan increasingly have come under enemy attack. There are currently more than 400 U.S. forward-operating bases in Afghanistan that consume from 250 to 7,500 gallons of fuel per day depending on their size. Large bases go through up to 50,000 gallons of fuel per day. Overall, the U.S. military consumes 50 million of gallons per month in Afghanistan.

While Panetta's plan has been welcomed by some, National Defense Magazine states funding for these initiatives have been questioned by Republicans.

Considering the effect of dramatic climate change by the DoD is nothing new. In 2007, the Center for Naval Analyses released a report that stated it found climate change would act as a “'threat multiplier' for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world".

In 2009, the New York Times reported war games and intelligence studies were conducted to evaluate the potential effects of extreme weather events and long-term warming. It stated the conclusion of these efforts by the National Defense University was "over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response."

At that time, the Times also cited polar ice caps melting as a problem for the military given that it would "[open] a shipping channel that must be defended and undersea resources that are already the focus of international competition."

Groups such as Climate Depot -- project of the conservative organization Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow -- in response to this information at the time had pointed out information in these studies was based on "unproven computer models which even the United Nations IPCC admits are not 'predictions.'" It wrote taking the "national security" angle preyed on "doomsday scenarios." The organization considers the real threat to the national security of the U.S. not global warming but the solutions to global warming that some propose.

The Heartlander, a product of the free-market think-tank The Heartland Institute, more recently shared this sentiment citing a study that found "global warming is unlikely to damage U.S. national security, but expensive programs implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will weaken the nation’s economy and military":

William O’Keefe, CEO of the Marshall Institute, writes in the study, “Economic security is the foundation for maintaining the U.S.’s ability to preserve its national interests and therefore actions that damage economic well being also weaken national security.

“Among the factors that inject stability into the international system is economic prosperity,” O’Keefe explains. “There is an abundance of evidence relating to economic freedom and economic growth.”

Even if global warming fears come to pass, “The impacts of weather events or climate change in the developing world are not caused by developed world carbon emissions. They are caused primarily by extreme poverty which is the result of exploitation by dictators, and the lack of economic and personal freedom, the rule of law, property rights, and access to commercial energy. Solving the problem of poverty in these countries would provide them the capacity and resilience to deal with whatever climate exists in the future,” the study states.

Heartlander includes Australian science and economics writer Joanne Nova saying "nations foolish enough to waste resources developing alternative energy sources and carbon markets will be more vulnerable to attacks."

Let us know in the comments what you think of the relationship between national security and global climate change.

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