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Sheldon Speaks about National Security Threat Posed by Climate Change

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, we are working toward a national defense authorization act, and as we do that, I rise to discuss the importance of assessing and planning for and mitigating the national security effects of climate change.

Our changing climate is not simply a green issue invented by environmentalists and conservationists; climate change threatens our strategic interests, our military readiness, and our domestic security in many ways. It is a serious national security issue--so says not just me but the U.S. Department of Defense and, indeed, our national intelligence community.

In 2011 the Defense Science Board provided the Secretary of Defense guidance for a governmentwide approach to preparing for the effects of climate change, concluding that “climate change will only grow in concern for the United States and its security interests.”

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review by the Department of Defense noted that climate change is one of the things that “will play important roles in the future security environment.”

The White House's 2010 national security strategist stated that “climate change ..... threaten(s) the security of regions and the health and safety of the American people.”

Back to 2008, Dr. Thomas Fingar, then Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that “global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests for the next 20 years.”

In a report requested by the CIA, the National Research Council wrote this year that “while climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict.”

In 2006 the Center for Naval Analysis, a federally funded research and development center that has advised the Navy and Marine Corps since 1942, convened a military advisory board of retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals and asked them to report on national security and the threat of climate change. The report stated:

“While uncertainty exists ..... regarding ..... the future extent of projected climate change, the trends are clear. The nature and pace of climate changes being observed today ..... pose ..... grave implications for our national security.”

And, of course, as the Presiding Officer knows, in the 5 years since, the evidence has tracked the worst of those climate change projections, not the most gentle.

Our Nation's top military strategists, our Nation's top researchers, the National Research Council, and the National Academy of Sciences all have recommended that our national security institutions prepare for threats caused by climate change.

On the other hand, we have a tiny fringe of scientists, many of whom are funded by industry, that denies these facts and urges us to maintain the status quo. In effect, that little fringe urges us to do nothing. This is the same strategy, often the same organizations, and in some cases even the same people who denied in the past that cigarettes are bad for us or that lead paint harms children. They are professional, industry-paid deniers at large.

The choice is a clear one, and I recommend we follow the findings of our military leaders. They have determined that climate change is real and that our national security requires us to reject the false science of the climate deniers.

The National Intelligence Council has identified more than 30 U.S. military installations that are threatened by risks associated just with rising sea levels. One is Diego Garcia. It is a small island south of India and home to a logistics hub for U.S. and British forces in the Middle East and to Air Force Satellite Control Network equipment. The Navy reports that the average elevation of Diego Garcia is approximately 4 feet. Even absent a storm or tsunami, this installation is threatened by inundation from slow and steady sea level rise.

The Norfolk Naval Air Station and Naval Base on the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay is the Navy's largest supply center and home to the U.S. Atlantic fleet. A New York Times analysis this past weekend using U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA data showed that a 5-foot sea level rise would permanently flood portions of that base. The base is at continuing risk, of course, from storm surges. By the way, a 5-foot sea level rise is now predicted to be a possibility in this century.

Eglin Air Force Base on Florida's gulf coast, the largest Air Force base in the world, is threatened by storm surge, sea level rise, and saltwater infiltration. We know that climate change loads the dice for more and more severe extreme weather.

Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson and retired Lieutenant General Daniel Christman recently used Hurricane Katrina as an example of how extreme weather can cause what they call “negative operational impacts” to our military. In response to Katrina, the National Guard mobilized 58,000 National Guard members to the relief effort at the same time that 79,000 Guard members were deployed fighting the war on terrorism. The generals pointed out that although Louisiana's physical infrastructure did not hold, our National Guard did hold. But the limits of even our exceptional National Guard would be tested by these changes in extreme weather, and it is imperative that we prepare our emergency management and responders for a new normal of new extremes.

Climate change will also create new strategic challenges. Climate events such as droughts and heat waves, floods and storms exacerbate political and military tensions in areas around the world with fragile governments and instability. This can result in violent conflict and in refugee problems.

It is not just the shock of extreme weather that portends danger. As the temperature of the air and ocean steadily rises, the amount of moisture in the atmosphere will change and the composition of the oceans will change. Habitats will change, growing conditions will be altered, and the snows and glaciers that feed great rivers will change, changing the seasonal flows of the rivers. The world's great agricultural deltas will face both those changes in the rivers and rising sea levels. All of these changes will disrupt food supplies and water resources. Many poorer regions are unprepared to deal with the effects of famine, drought, crop failure, flooding, and disease that can be anticipated. These slower moving climate disasters will create migration, competition for resources, and government instability that in turn sets the stage for more international unrest.

Last, the changing environment will affect our military's operating environment. Sea ice in the Arctic is already vanishing, and new Arctic waterways are opening. In September, Reuters reported that the first Chinese icebreaker crossed the Arctic, with the expedition leader explaining how surprised he was to find the route to be so open. In addition to new shipping routes, the reduction in Arctic sea ice makes oil, gas, and mineral exploration more likely there.

These new operational challenges will expand the Coast Guard's mission along our Arctic borders and the Navy's mission in the Arctic Ocean.

The Department of Defense and our intelligence community have accepted the science of climate change and the fact that we need to prepare for it. We customarily rely on the professional judgments of the sober and thoughtful leaders of these great national security organizations. Their assessments are based on sound and comprehensive science and analysis. I respect the solemn mission our national security institutions have to protect the United States and its interests, and I trust their judgment.

Their judgment is echoed by significant Republican leaders. Our former colleague, Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, who was the chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, has said:

“Leading military and security experts agree that if left unchecked, global warming could increase instability and lead to conflict in already fragile regions of the world.”

He continued:

“We ignore these facts at the peril of our national security and at great risk to those in uniform who serve this nation.”

George Shultz was Secretary of Treasury and Labor and Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Nixon, and the Secretary of State under President Reagan. He leads the Hoover Institution's Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy and has also served on the advisory boards of Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy and MIT's Energy Initiative. In his words, “..... the globe is warming, which is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. The arctic is melting. If you could bring together the constituencies concerned with national security, the economy and the environment--both local and global--that would be a potent coalition.”

So I hope Members on both sides of the aisle can agree that when it comes to protecting our American interests at home and abroad, we should believe our national security institutions when they warn us of the security and strategic implications of climate change rather than align ourselves with a questionable fringe of industry-allied deniers. Ultimately, as I have said before on this floor, we are beholding to our children and grandchildren to do something about the carbon pollution that is causing this climate change. And history's verdict for our failure will be harsh.

I yield the floor.