Hurricane Sandy put climate change back in the political discussion. It gave the American people a painful taste of what's in store. The storm inflicted significant damage on regional infrastructure, crippled transit, and left millions without power. Only the extraordinary accuracy of our weather prediction and foresight in preparations by state and local governments prevented a catastrophic loss of life as well.
And yet, while our political leaders treat threats like terrorism, Russia, or cyberwar as existential threats to America’s national security, they lump climate change into an issue that only special-interest “environmental” campaigners care about. While no one doubts the existence of al Qaeda, many otherwise serious politicians have questioned the underlying facts about climate change.
This has to change, and it starts with the facts. Climate change is real and it's underway. The temperature record is undisputable.
The basic facts—the climate is warming and humans are to blame—should not be in dispute. An estimated 97 percent of climate scientists
agree with these basic facts. There are disagreements, as in every field of science, that are largely focused on the sensitivity of the climate to precise additional emissions and the impact that those emissions have on weather patterns. Many scientists contend that the earth is likely to suffer greater harm than the scientific consensus says
. It is simply not credible for a politician or a commentator to question those facts by cherry picking evidence or claiming that there is no scientific consensus.
The effects of climate change have never been more apparent. Sea levels are rising by about 3mm
per year. Arctic sea ice fell almost 50 percent below
the 1979 - 2000 average. In 2012, more than 15,000 heat-related records in the United States were broken. This summer the U.S. experienced the worst drought since the 1930s. Unprecedented fires occurred across the western United States. And, last week, the East Coast was hit by a storm unprecedented
in size. Climate change is happening and is getting harder to ignore.
While projections of how much the climate will change are clearly uncertain, we do know that the longer we wait, the worse it gets.
Reducing greenhouse gases while implementing adaptation measures is basic risk management. Military planners and business executives routinely operate under uncertainty and make decisions based on incomplete information. If a battlefield commander waited until all facts were known about an advancing enemy, he would put his troops at risk. When 97 percent of the experts tell us that operating on a business-as-usual trajectory will exponentially increase risk, why is it that we dismiss them?
Facts will eventually force action. Although the presidential campaign was largely devoid of a discussion on climate change, President Obama, during his second term, and the Congress will be forced to take serious steps to address this real and accelerating problem. As the American Security Project’s new Climate Security Report makes clear, climate change threatens national security. It acts as an accelerant of instability around the world and it poses clear dangers to America’s homeland security. It is already past time to act.