The Charlie Hebdo shooting, the Tunisian beach resort shooting and the San Bernardino shootings; 2015 was a year that could not escape the word “terrorism” with at least 21 recorded acts committed throughout the world. However, the event that gained the most global attention and inspired thousands of people to change their Facebook profiles in solidarity, is indisputably the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.
What do the Paris attacks have to do with climate change? They perpetuated the concept that climate change is a national security problem. During the Nov. 14 Democratic debates, Bernie Sanders famously stated that “climate change is directly related to growth of terrorism.” He’s right. To frame it in such a light, however, is dangerous.
Wrong people for the job
“When you frame climate change as a security threat, the military will want to respond. And the way they will respond may have very little to do with stopping the spread of climate change,” said Joshua Busby, author of the Council on Foreign Relations 2007 report.
This was illustrated in September 2015 when President Barack Obama called for an investment in more icebreakers, large ships that break-up ice, for the Coast Guard in the Arctic. It’s no secret the Arctic is a highly resource rich area that “the world economy, to some extent, is dependent on,” according to Russia Today. This includes not only an estimated 90 billion barrels worth of oil but also 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas.
However, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, icebreakers play a role in further melting glacial ice. Investing in more icebreakers for the Coast Guard fulfills the Department of Defense’s (DoD) function of “being in the right place, at the right time, with the right qualities and capacities to protect our national resources,” but this does little to solve our climate change problems. With climate change framed as a national security threat, it is appropriate for the DoD to respond by appropriating more resources to address the impending scarcity that unmitigated climate will produce.
Everything in it’s right place
If climate change is a national security threat, the best way to address that threat is by addressing the problem at its cause: burning too many fossil fuels and farming too much livestock. It’s only logical then, that the most direct solution would be to develop the infrastructure and technology that would allow our economy to transition out to fossil fuels and develop sustainable farming practices. However, by the US engaging in resource warfare as a solution to climate change, we are not only putting international diplomacy at risk but are also treating the symptoms of the problem, not the causes.
In response to addressing climate change in relation to the growth of terrorism, we have spent $7.6 trillion on military and homeland security since Sept. 11, 2001. In 2015, military spending accounted for 54 percent of the Federal Budget, with 3 percent spent on energy and the environment. We have not been spending enough money on addressing climate change from a direct approach and need to start there first.