U.S. Military Says We Need Action on Climate Now or We Will "Pay Later"

The U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic communities are to be commended for their forward-leaning approach to viewing global warming as a national security threat, as documented in Sunday's New York Times.

These dedicated professionals have clearly grasped the ways climate change puts all of us in harm's way and they are making plans to deal with a raft of possible crises stemming from the global rise in temperature.

The Times story broke through the noise of the climate change debate by drawing out the connection between our climate and our national security. As reporter John Broder wrote, climate change "will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics."

These effects are in addition to challenges like the weakening of marginal states, the flooding of coastal cities, the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases, catastrophic shortages of fresh water and food. (See the OnEarth magazine's story about how Bangladesh is coping with climate change.) These are among the clear and present dangers the world potentially faces from the steady march of global warming.

Our national security experts have no choice but to plan for these potential threats. Training and equipping U.S. forces for the additional missions and overall burdens of these international crises, after all, will take years, if not decades, and cost this country untold billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, though, there is much the rest of us can do to help stem the tide of global warming and avert the worst of the dire ills it portends. The best way to start is for our Senate to move ahead with comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

Earlier this summer, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) which would take meaningful and needed steps toward curbing the greenhouse emissions that cause global warming. The bill would help create 1.7 million new jobs in exciting new technologies that help us reduce our carbon footprint. It would save the country some 440 million barrels of oil a year by the year 2030, the Department of Energy estimates, reducing our dangerous reliance on foreign oil. And it would cost the average household just 23 cents a day through 2030, the DOE estimates.

Let's put this sum in perspective by considering what retired General Anthony Zinni recently wrote (as reported in the Times):

"We will pay for this one way or another. 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." (You can read the full report here.)

Americans everywhere can be proud of the dedicated professionals devoted to assessing future risk and defending the United States against it.

Safeguarding the country, though, has never been solely the responsibility of the men and women who bear arms. It has always been the responsibility of every American to do what we can to stand up for the common good.

While those in uniform stand watch at home and abroad, watching out for threats both old and new, the rest of us can support them by making our voices heard. Call or write your U.S. Senators today and ask them to move forward with comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. (You can find out more about NRDC's action here).

It's one thing we can all do to make our country more secure - today, tomorrow and always.