Yesterday the White House released a major report (see video) produced by a consortium of 13 federal agencies organized by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, describes the current and future effects of climate change in the American homeland. Here are a few of the key findings:
The United States will be strongly affected by climate change. The myth that only poor developing countries will suffer from climate change is a common misconception that probably arises from confusion between exposure and vulnerability to climate impacts. But virtually all of the categories of extreme weather events that traditionally affected our large and climatically diverse country are all projected to get worse: heavy downpours and associated flooding, intense hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts. Moreover, every region and most social and economic sectors in the U.S. are being affected now and will be affected more severely in the future. The report concludes on page 157:
Human-induced climate change is happening now, and impacts are already apparent. Greater impacts are projected, particularly if heat-trapping gas emissions continue unabated. Previous assessments have established these facts, and this report confirms, solidifies, and extends these conclusions for the United States.
So what if the United States will be impacted by climate change? How is that a national security concern?
The point here is not to say that American troops should deploy to fight climate change. The point is that climate change must be considered in security planning and military procurement and that climate change will intensify some homeland security concerns that already exist. We have the capacity to deal with these issues, but we must be thinking about them and taking them seriously before we will deal with them. At the report’s launch in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building right next door to the White House, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Dr. Jane Lubchenco encapsulated the message so aptly that I will give her the last word here:
I think that much of the foot dragging in addressing climate change is a reflection of the perception that climate change is way down the road--it's in the future--and that it only affects remote parts of the planet. And this report demonstrates--provides the concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now and it's happening in our own backyards and it affects the kinds of things people care about. So I think the dialog is changing. This is science that will inform policymaking. It doesn't dictate any particular solution, but it says this is important, we need to act sooner rather than later, it affects you and the things you care about.
Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, (eds.). Cambridge University Press, 2009.