- - Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Today’s Pentagon most fears climate change

Suppose NASA had put its faith into computer models instead of actual scientific observations and rigorous testing during the Apollo era. Chances are the space agency would have had a couple of dead astronauts on its hands instead of successful moon landings.

That much can be inferred from a report that engineers and scientists produced in cooperation with retired veterans of the manned space program. Known as “The Right Climate Stuff,” the research team vigorously disputes the idea that anthropogenic (man-made) carbon-dioxide emissions are responsible for inducing dangerous levels of global warming. The study, published in January, concludes that natural processes are largely responsible for warming and cooling trends. Instead of drawing from the lessons learned during the moon missions, though, U.S. government officials are now working to reshape public policy on the basis of computer models fine-tuned by global warming alarmists to fit with predictions that have not materialized.

This would include U.S. military leaders who now see a connection between climate change and national security. That’s bad for the American people in general and U.S. military personnel in particular. By diverting time, effort and energy away from tangible, emerging threats to address unsubstantiated claims, the Pentagon could greatly jeopardize those under its charge. The disconnect between reality and sound public policy may be most evident in the Asian-Pacific region. After North Korea successfully launched a satellite into space this past December, it became clear that Kim Jong-un, the country’s pugnacious 30-year-old dictator, has a growing capacity to make good on his missile threats. Yet, the top military officer responsible for monitoring hostile actions in the Pacific has told reporters that climate change, not North Korea, is the pre-eminent national security threat in that area.


Since Mr. Kim has threatened the islands of Guam, Hawaii and even parts of the continental United States with missile strikes, now is a good time to question the Pentagon’s reasoning. Located about 2,000 miles southeast of North Korea, Guam is arguably the most vulnerable of the U.S. territories named as potential targets. The island is about three times the size of Washington, D.C., and has a population of 178,000. Guam’s geopolitical importance is difficult to overstate as it provides a platform for U.S. Navy facilities and the Andersen Air Force Base. There are about 6,000 U.S. military personnel on the island, according to the U.S. Defense Department. They are all within range of a belligerent, rogue state that has been at war with the United States for the past 60 years. However, after meeting with foreign policy specialists at Harvard and Tufts universities in March, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the U.S. Pacific Command chief, said in interviews with the Boston media that he was mostly concerned with the impact of global warming. “You have the real potential here in the not too-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level,” he declared. That same month, North Korea threatened to abrogate the armistice agreement that has been in effect since 1953. This announcement came just a few weeks after the communist country conducted its third nuclear test since 2006.

While there is some dispute about what North Korea’s capabilities are today, there is no question about the Kim regime’s long-term ambitions. That’s why there is at least widespread agreement on the need for an effective missile-defense system that can be used to blunt a potential strike. Military planners who continuously link climate change to national security should know that at least some of the anti-missile systems now in operation would not be a reality if the environmental movement had its druthers. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace and the Physicians for Social Responsibility all filed suit against the Pentagon in an effort to halt production of the missile-defense facility in Alaska, claiming it would negatively impact the environment. The suit was withdrawn after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but many of the same groups continue to target the U.S. military. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, has sued the Navy, claiming that sonar exercises used to detect enemy submarines harm marine life. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court thankfully ruled against unproven speculation and in favor of military readiness in Winter v. Natural Resources. More often than not, though, green pressure groups have their way with compliant policymakers. By obstructing the Keystone XL pipeline and continued natural gas production, the environmental movement is forcing the United States to rely upon dangerous, unstable regions of the world for energy resources. How is that good for national security?

Instead of placating climate alarmists, military leaders should become better acquainted with updated scientific research that shows sea-level rise is actually slowing. Over time, we are talking inches, not feet. To the extent global instability burdens the U.S. military, it will more likely result from emissions restrictions favored by environmentalists that deny vulnerable populations access to cheap, affordable energy, while reducing economic growth. That’s what climate skeptics have been trying to communicate to U.S. policymakers. We are a long way off from the scientific honesty of the Apollo era.

Kevin Mooney is a national reporter for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.