Retired U.S military leaders and war veterans are calling on Sen. James Inhofe to apologize for an offensive remark he made accusing them of supporting global warming action only to get publicity.
In an interview published in the Nov. 29 New York Times Magazine, Inhofe said that calling climate change a threat to national security "is the most ludicrous thing."
"Five generals out of 4,000 retired generals … say that. There are a lot of generals who don’t like to be out of the limelight. They’d like to get back in," the Oklahoma Republican said.
Operation Free, a coalition of leading veterans’ and national security organizations, launched a petition in response.
"Enough is enough. Swiftboating our military veterans, and questioning their patriotism, for crass political gain should not be tolerated. … Senator Inhofe, you need to apologize," the group said.
Saying "it’s just those five generals" pressing for climate change laws "is sadly misguided," Jon Powers, an Iraq war veteran and member of the Operation Free coalition, told reporters Tuesday.
Leaders and institutions "across the spectrum" are increasingly standing behind "the fact" that climate change represents a grave national security threat, Powers said. This is "not about politics, but about our security," he added.
A recent body of defense establishment research supports this, as U.S. armed forces and intelligence agencies have increasingly sounded an urgent alarm about warming.
The assessments draw similar conclusions. They warn that climate-induced crises — drought, famine, rising seas and ensuing mass migration — could destabilize some of the planet’s most explosive regions. If and when that happens, the U.S. military could be pulled in to keep the peace, taxing its overstretched forces and putting military lives in danger.
A report authored by 11 3-star and 4-star generals and admirals in 2007 under the Pentagon-funded CNA Corporation concluded that "climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world" — and that this "presents signiﬁcant national security challenges for the United States."
"The U.S. may be drawn more frequently into these situations, either alone or with allies, to help provide stability before conditions worsen and are exploited by extremists," the report said.
This year alone, the world saw 30 million people migrate from where they normally live "to get away from effects of climate change," retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy told reporters. The most serious dangers appear to be some years off, but the "cost of doing nothing will be far higher" than confronting the problem now, she added.
In 2008, the first-ever "National Intelligence Assessment" of climate change from the National Intelligence Council said the next two decades are key.
"We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years," Thomas Fingar, then chairman of the National Intelligence Council, testified to Congress on the classified document.
For military advocates, mitigating the impacts of global warming means taking down two security threats with one stone.
Attacking global warming requires embracing energy efficiency improvements and reduced fossil fuel consumption. Those measures protect against increased foreign oil dependency, they contend.
National security institutions are now adding climate change to their long-term planning, Powers said.
The Department of Defense is including the climate change threat in its Quadrennial Defense Review. Likewise, the State Department will confront the issue in the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.
In September, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) opened a Center on Climate Change and National Security to provide support to American lawmakers on the "national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources," the agency said.
The Obama administration has put global warming high on America’s national security agenda. But the concern over climate change in the military is hardly a Democratic push, according to Kennedy. The final national defense strategy before the end of the Bush administration acknowledged that climate change will affect America’s security policy for years to come, she said.
Inhofe, ‘Alone in Climate Denial’
The New York Times interview was not the first time a defiant Inhofe infuriated retired military leaders by trying to undercut their security argument for slowing climate change.
In late October, at a hearing of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on the Kerry-Boxer climate bill, Inhofe brought in two witnesses who challenged the idea that climate change poses a threat to national security.
In response, Operation Free Advocacy Director Jonathan Murray called Inhofe "alone" in his denial of the climate change-security connection.
"Our dependence on foreign oil makes America more vulnerable, while climate disruptions make the world a more dangerous place for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Not only is Senator Inhofe increasingly isolated, but his continued failure to recognize these threats slows our effort to protect American servicemen and women," Murray said.
Inhofe’s most recent verbal attack on the retired military coincides with the so-called ClimateGate scandal.
The scandal broke on Nov. 20, when an unidentified hacker published 12 years of illegally obtained personal e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the UK’s University of East Anglia online. Global warming deniers say the content of the emails throws into question the competence of climate science research.
Inhofe, the United States’ most prominent climate skeptic, has vowed a probe of the hacked data and of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has produced the most authoritative consensus reports on human-caused global warming.
Peter Frumhoff, the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a lead author of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, said emails or not, the scientific case for carbon regulation in America stands:
"The scientific community is united in calling on U.S. policymakers to recognize that emissions of heat-trapping gases must be dramatically reduced if we are to avoid the worst consequences of human-induced climate change," Frumhoff said.
The UCS has long criticized Inhofe for his political interference with climate science.
Kennedy said Inhofe’s denial of the science puts him in a minority among Americans. Calling global warming a "serious" national security threat, the retired general said it’s time for Congress and the country to base their discussions on the "science, not rhetoric."
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