Yesterday, I headed down to the Hall of the States near Capitol Hill to attend a conference entitled “Toward a New Climate Network: Transatlantic Solutions for a Low Carbon Economy.” This conference was put on by the Heinrich Böll Foundation to celebrate the release of a new report on climate change cooperation between the United States and Europe.
Although the focus was on climate change legislation and economics, some panelists spoke to security concerns without identifying them as such. For example, a member of the North Carolina General Assembly noted that her state has many miles of coastline and low-lying coastal areas that are threatened by future sea level rises. As she put it bluntly, “We're staring at a disaster.” Still, security should arguably have been a greater concern to the conference attendees.
Governments around the world are looking into climate change as a security issue, which is why the absence of security at the conference was so puzzling. Government officials from the Maldives are preparing for a symbolic conference they’re hosting underwater to draw attention to the effects of sea level rise on their country. The U.S. military is going to feel the effects as well, and not just in humanitarian relief missions on its own east coast. Overseas humanitarian missions could increase as disasters become more common. And climate change is likely to affect the U.S. military’s traditional missions as well. Its base on Diego Garcia, an Indian Ocean atoll that that serves as an air and naval hub for U.S. forces in the Middle East, is likely to be underwater in the future. This past July, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn (ret.) testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “rising sea levels may swamp Diego Garcia and deny the United States this critical operating hub for its armed forces.” Needless to say, adapting to these impacts will cost a lot of money. And the longer we wait, the more it could cost us both in terms of human and economic capital.
One panelist yesterday described climate change as “the greatest economic issue of our time” and argued that we should be working on the issue in economic forums as well as environmental ones. We assert that the United States should also continue to look at climate change in a security context.