12 Generals, Admirals Speak Truth to Congress on Climate

Share this article

If members of the U.S. Congress listen closely on Monday, they will hear this sound.

That’s the cavalry (and the Navy, Air Force and Marines) coming to the aid of a green army that is vastly outnumbered and out-funded by the oil and coal lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

A panel of 12 distinguished retired generals and admirals has just released the latest in a series of reports over the past two years warning that global climate change is not just an environmental issue, or an economic issue, or a public health and welfare issue. It’s an urgent matter of national security.

Put another way, any effort to further delay the world’s transition to a sustainable energy economy is a national security threat.

The new report – “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security” – is the work of the Military Advisory Board of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), a federally funded research and development center serving U.S. defense agencies. The board consists of former admirals and generals who have served at the very top of America’s military structure and who know a security threat when they see one. (See their names and titles at the end of this post).

Among their conclusions:

• Our current energy posture causes military, diplomatic and economic vulnerabilities that are “exploitable by those who wish to do us harm.”

• A business as usual approach to energy security poses a “unacceptably high threat level from a series of converging risks.”

• We should not pursue energy options “inconsistent with the national response to climate change” – in other words, fossil fuels, whether they are produced domestically or by other nations.

The 12 retired officers make clear that imported oil is not our only security problem. Coal and gas are liabilities, too, as are other fossil derivatives such as liquids from coal:

Diversifying our energy sources and moving away from fossil fuels where possible is critical to our future energy security …

The volatile fossil fuel markets have a major impact on our national economy, which in turn affects national security. … Volatility is not limited to the oil market; the nation’s economy is also wrenched by the increasingly sharp swings in the price of natural gas and coal. This volatility wreaks havoc with government revenue projections, making the task of addressing strategic and systemic national security problems much more challenging. It also makes it more difficult for companies to commit to the long-term investments needed to develop and deploy new energy technologies and upgrade major infrastructure …

Replacing one limited fuel source with another will not give Americans the lasting security they expect and deserve.

“We have less than 10 years to change or fossil fuel dependency course in significant ways,” concludes one of the officers, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, the former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs. “Our nation’s security depends on the swift, serious and thoughtful response to the inter-linked challenges of energy security and climate change. Our elected leaders and, most importantly, the American people should realize this set of challenges isn’t going way. We cannot continue business as usual.”

As I noted earlier, this is only the latest warning from former military leaders that our dependence on carbon-intensive fossil fuels is making us less and less safe.

April 2007: The CNA issued a study by 11 retired admirals and generals that focused specifically on the national security implications of climate change. Among their conclusions:

Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the
most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States. … The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.

November 2007: The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security issued “The Age of Consequences”, a scenarios analysis that predicts global warming will produce “heightened internal and cross-border tensions caused by large-scale migrations; conflict sparked by resource scarcity, particularly in the weak and failing states of Africa; increased disease proliferation, which will have economic consequences; and some geopolitical reordering as nations adjust to shifts in resources and prevalence of disease.”

Among the authors was Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA and energy advisor to Sen. John McCain during his presidential campaign.

June 2008: The National Intelligence Council completed the first-ever National Intelligence Assessment of climate change. Its contents are classified, but the chairman of the Council, Thomas Fingar, summarized key findings before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on June 25:

We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years. … From a national security perspective, climate change has the potential to affect lives (for example, through food and water shortages, increased health problems including the spread of disease, and increased potential for conflict), property (for example through ground subsidence, flooding, coastal erosion and extreme weather events) and other security interests.

The day after Fingar’s testimony, Sherri Goodman – the former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security and now general counsel of the CNA told Congress:

What are the potential security consequences of these destabilizing effects? Overall they increase the potential for failed states and the growth of terrorism; mass migrations will lead to greater regional and global tensions; and tension over resources, particularly water, are almost certain to escalate.

Goodman offered Congress a direct quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Commander of the U.S. Central Command:

We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today … or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it. That has to hit home.

That conclusion did not hit home in the 110th Congress, which failed to give serious debate to climate legislation.

Today in the 111th Congress, the best hope for confronting global climate change is the Waxman-Markey bill – a serious cap-and-trade proposal making its way this week through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Although the bill has a long road and lots of landmines ahead, hopes are rising that it could pass Congress and reach the president’s desk before the international community attempts to negotiate a global climate deal this December in Copenhagen.

That is critically important. We should make no mistake: What we do in the United States will establish the standard for the rest of the world. No nation will agree to be more ambitious that we are in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. That means, in effect, the United States Congress is legislating not just for the American people, but for the world. The issue being raised by respected members of our military and intelligence services is not just national security; it’s global security.

In his radio address Saturday, President Obama praised the coalition that appears to be forming around the Waxman-Markey bill. The president called clean energy and health care (another issue inextricably linked with climate change) the pillars of “a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”

Today’s CNA report reminds us that national security is also an essential pillar of prosperity. It’s a pillar that should appeal to even the most conservative members of Congress – some of whom believe that protecting national security is the only legitimate responsibility of the federal government.

In fact, it’s a pillar that every member of Congress – Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, green or otherwise – has sworn to uphold.

Every two years, all members of the House and one-third of the members of the Senate take the following oath of office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

The Constitution they swear to defend begins with this statement:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Climate change and our fossil-fueled economy undermine every one of these aspirations.

In case it isn’t obvious, the link between energy policy, climate and national security – now well established by those in the best positions to know – makes the Waxman-Markey bill the real Patriot Act.

Whatever deals must be made to get it through Congress, the bill must remain sufficiently strong to bring about a responsible but rapid and revolutionary transformation in the world economy. It must set a high standard for the rest of the developed world. It must provide unmistakable evidence to developing nations that the United States is ready to be accountable for its carbon emissions and to help raise the world’s people from poverty with clean and sustainable energy technologies.

Anyone who tries to weaken the bill’s ability to meet those tests is, quite simply, undermining our national security.

Author’s note: In addition to Adm. McGinn, members of the CNA’s Military Advisory Board responsible for the new report (but not for my conclusions) are:
–Air Force Gen. Chuck Wald, former Deputy Commander of the U.S. European Command
–Adm. T. Joseph Lopez, former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Naval Forces Europe
–Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former Chief of Staff of the Army
–Gen. Robert Magnus, former Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps
–Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, former Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Headquarters, U.S. European Command
–Lt. Gen. Lawrence Farrell Jr., former Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. air Force
–Gen. Paul Kern, former Commanding General, U.S. Army Materiel Command
–Gen. Ronald Keys, former Commander, Air Combat Command
–Adm. John Nathman, former Vice Chief of Naval Operations and Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces
–Rear Adm. David Oliver Jr., former Principal Deputy to the Navy Acquisition Executive
–Vice Adm. Richard Truly, former NASA Administrator and former Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.