February 10, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Climate Change Threatens Our National Security

Madam President, I might point out that not only are Delaware and Rhode Island both small and mighty, but they are small, mighty, and coastal, which is relevant to the topic of my remarks this afternoon. I am now here for the eighty-ninth consecutive week that Congress has been in session to urge the Senate to wake up to the risks of climate change and to address the carbon pollution that is causing climate change.

We have a particular context for this conversation this week. The Founding Fathers, in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, granted to Congress a sacred duty, as the Constitution says, : to “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”   To that end, we have built the world’s greatest military and most sophisticated intelligence and national security services.  After the attacks of September 11, 2001, we undertook the largest reorganization of the federal government in a half century to stand up the Department of Homeland Security.  We trust these national security agencies and the dedicated professionals who lead them and serve in them to ascertain and prepare for the risks facing our country in an uncertain world. 

But the Tea-Party wing of the Republican Caucus has chosen to hold up appropriations for vital homeland security programs; programs that protect Americans from terrorism; programs that help our states prepare for disasters; all to have a quarrel with the President on immigration. 

Well, when we get to immigration, if our friends on the House side would ever get to immigration, well, we could certainly can debate the merits of the President’s immigration policies, and certainly we should pass legislation to fix our broken immigration system so the President’s executive actions are no longer necessary, and by the way, in the Senate,  we did our job and passed a strong bipartisan bill. But to deny the Department of Homeland Security the resources it needs to safeguard the nation is foolhardy.

Now, it’s precisely because of that duty to safeguard the nation that we should take our homeland security and military professionals seriously when they take seriously the threats posed by climate change.  I think we should have a vote on a resolution highlighting the fact findings of our national security, military, and intelligence services about the climate threat. This resolution expresses the sense of the Senate that our security professionals’ conclusions are not products of some hoax or deception perpetrated on the American public, and that they deserve our respect.  Now, that ought to be something every Senator can get behind.

Let’s look at some of the information. Just last week, the Administration’s 2015 National Security Strategy classified climate change as, I quote, “an urgent and growing threat to our national security.”  It’s because this is serious that the  United States is out there actively cutting pollution and strengthening resilience at home, and leading the international community toward stronger carbon pollution standards.

The challenge that climate change poses to national security and emergency preparedness is clearly laid out in DHS’s 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.  It describes the effects of climate change as “threat multipliers,” with the potential to aggravate hazards to American safety and health.  For example, higher temperatures may change patterns of disease and the spread of pests and pathogens.  Competition for resources can contribute to the kind of social destabilization that engenders terrorist activity all around the world. You don’t have to look far to see that today.

Extreme weather and temperatures endanger the infrastructure that underpins our economy and way of life—from roads and bridges, that now run to close to rising seas,  to power and water treatment plants, to telecommunications and cyber networks. 

As Assistant Secretary David Heyman of the DHS Office of Policy and Assistant Secretary Caitlin Durkovich of the Office of Infrastructure Protection explained to our ownSenate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee just last year, and I quote, “The projected impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events, can cause damage or disruptions that result in cascading effects across our communities, with immeasurable costs in lives lost and billions of dollars in property damage.”  Why would we not want to take that seriously? And we heard just the same message in the Budget Committee just last week from OMB Director Shaun Donovan.

Already, the annual number of costly weather-related disasters is going up.  According to NOAA, in the 1980s, in that decade, if you look at the number of natural disasters costing $1 billion or more, in each year of the 1980s there were between zero and five. That was the range for the 1980s; between zero and five $1 billion weather events. In the 1990s, that rate rose to between three and nine events each year in the 1990s.  And then in 2000, it went up between two and eleven events per year. And since 2010, in the category of $1 billion disasters each year, the range has been between 6 and 16.    So from the 1980s, it was 0 to 5, until this decade when it is 6 to 16. If people can’t take that seriously, they are simply not meeting their responsibilities.

Superstorm Sandy caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, including terrible losses in my home state of Rhode Island.  Sandy, across New England, destroyed thousands of homes, left millions without electric service and caused more than 100 deaths across nine states.  Of course, we cannot say that this one devastating storm was specifically caused by climate change, but we do know that carbon pollution loads the dice for more and more severe extreme weather, just like Sandy.  And, Sandy sure showed how vulnerable we are to this kind of catastrophic change. 

Climate change presents security challenges in every corner of the homeland.  To the south, DHS predicts that more severe droughts and storms could increase both legal and illegal movements across the U.S. border from Mexico, from Central America, and from the Caribbean.  My Republican colleagues insist that protecting our border is a top priority. Fine, I hope that means they will take seriously the warnings from our national security professionals about the destabilizing effects of climate change, and its effects in turn at our border.

If you move up north to the State of Maine, our former colleague, Olympia Snowe, has just written an article in Newsweek magazine. I will read the opening:

In late 2014, fishery regulators announced that for the second consecutive year there would be no shrimp fishery in the gulf of Maine this winter. The culprit: principally warming ocean waters caused by climate change.

She goes on to describe another phenomenon that scientists dubbed an ocean heat wave in the spring of 2012 that led to an early molt and migration of lobsters that caused a supply glut and subsequent price collapse. Now if you know anything about Maine, you know lobsters are pretty important to Maine. Senator Snowe’s conclusion, I’ll quote it “The message here is clear: climate change is taking dollars and jobs away from fishing communities.”

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that her article be printed at the conclusion of my remarks.

To the far north, melting sea ice opens the Arctic for shipping, tourism, and resource extraction, but also for smuggling, illicit resource extraction, and environmental disasters.  It is a whole new frontier to be patrolled and protected by our Coast Guard, part of DHS, at taxpayers’ expense

Former Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp, Jr., is now the U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic Region.  He’s got the job to help manage risk in this remote, but increasingly accessible region of the world.  He had this to say about managing the consequences of climate change. Admiral Papp said:

I am not a scientist.  I can read what scientists say, but I’m in the world of consequence management.  My first turn in Alaska was thirty-nine years ago, and during the summertime we had to break ice to get up to the Bering Strait and to get to Kotzebue [KAHT-zi-byoo].  Thirty-five years later, going up there as commandant, we flew into Kotzebue at the same time of year; I could not see ice anywhere.  So it is clear to me there are changes happening, but I have to deal with the consequences of that.

Madam President, the men and women of our homeland and national security communities deal in real-world consequences.  They don’t have the luxury of skirting the evidence or shrugging off serious, adult risk analysis. 

It’s just as true at the Department of Defense as it is at the Department of Homeland Security.  As Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, III, Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, puts it, it’s “not my venue to debate the politics of any particular issue.  All I do is report what I see, and what I think I see, and the implications.”  Well, Admiral Locklear, our chief naval officer in the Pacific Command, has called climate change the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific, because, as he sees it, I’ll quote him here, it “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment.” 

Our colleagues may think it is funny to ignore climate change in this body while they depend so heavily on funding from the fossil fuel that is behind the pollution. They should listen to admirals who are responsible for our security when they tell us this is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen to cripple the security environment.

Last May, the CNA Corporation released a report on the risks climate change poses to our national security. This report was led by fifteen retired generals and admirals from the four branches of the United States military. Here’s what they said, I’ll quote them “The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced,” , that’s what they wrote.  They continued, “We are dismayed that discussions of climate change have become so polarizing and have receded from the arena of informed public discourse and debate. . . . Time and tide wait for no man.”

Mr. President, our military, intelligence, and homeland security services have been warning Congress for far too long about the risks of climate change.  It’s a dereliction of duty for this body to continue to ignore this problem.  It is time to heed the warning.  It is time to responsibly prepare for the clear risk before us.  It is time to wake up.

I yield the floor.