During a speech at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said paying attention to climate change is “critically important” for U.S. security.
“From my perspective,” he said, “within the portfolio that I have responsibility for – security of this country – climate change presents security issues for us. This is critically important that we pay attention to this.”
Alluding to the threats posed by the Islamic State and other military enemies, Hagel noted that critics of climate change science believe the government has more urgent priorities that the environment. Hagel was firm, saying that it was part of his job to not “lose sight of the strategic longer-term challenges that face our country either, and this is one that we’ve got to be smart in how we handle it.”
This is not the first time Hagel has warned of the dangers of climate change to U.S. security. Last year, the Secretary spoke at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.
“Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” he said. “Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters – all place additional burdens on economies, societies and institutions around the world.”
On Wednesday, Hagel said that sea level rise caused by melting glaciers and ice sheets “will affect our bases. It will affect islands. It will affect security across the world. Just from my narrow perspective, what I have responsibility for, that’s happening now.”
Hagel noted that the Pentagon has been taking climate change much more seriously than policymakers. As early as 2006, eleven retired admirals and generals published a report on how climate change threatens American national security.
Other members of the President’s cabinet have also publicly warned about the dangers of ignoring climate change. During a speech in September, Secretary of State John Kerry equated the long-term threat posed by global warming to both Ebola and the Islamic State. Kerry reiterated his position in an October 9 press conference, saying that, if the world continues to ignore global warming, “Life as you know it on Earth ends. Seven degrees increase Fahrenheit and we can’t sustain crops, water, life under those circumstances.”