Obama in Oslo: The Link between Peace and Climate Security

When I met with President Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Wednesday, I could see the Nobel Prize that was awarded to President Teddy Roosevelt. The very next day, President Obama accepted his own Nobel Prize in Oslo.

Obama may not be the first president to receive the Nobel, but he is the first one to name solving climate change as a building block for peace. He said in his speech:

“It's also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement -- all of which will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action -- it's military leaders in my own country and others who understand our common security hangs in the balance.”

I heartily agree. Climate change is not just an environmental challenge. It is also a humanitarian challenge. It is an economic challenge. It is a national security challenge. And because it threatens so many fundamental aspects of human society, it is a barrier to peace.

I am heartened that Obama did not limit his comments about climate change to his upcoming trip to Copenhagen. The need to confront global warming belongs squarely in Oslo, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, as well.

Fortunately, as Obama mentioned, our military leaders are beginning to recognize these new realities. Officials at the Pentagon and U.S. security agencies have started viewing climate change as an agent of political unrest and instability.

When they look ahead to a further altered climate, they see fragile governments struggling to secure clean water and food across a band of volatility stretching from Africa through the Middle East and into Central Asia.

They see support systems overwhelmed worldwide by the growing virulence of violent storms. They see people by the scores of millions living on the edge of environmental collapse. They see trend lines showing every one of these risks tracking sharply up. And they know exactly who’s going to get the 911 call when it all starts falling apart.

“We will pay for this one way or another,” retired Marine Corps four-star Gen. Anthony Zinni wrote in a 2007 report by the Center for Naval Analysis, an independent research group. “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll.”

We don’t have to pay that price. If we start to stabilize the climate now, we can prevent the suffering of hundreds of millions of people, and we can prevent the wars that will follow in the wake of that suffering.

It is a short trip from Oslo to Copenhagen. I hope Obama’s message that the urgent need for peace and the urgent need to confront climate change can be solved together spans the distance.