Washington is full of partisan debates and disagreements on any given week – so much so that we here at DecodeDC generally choose to look the other way for something of substance. Occasionally, however, the extremes are too great to ignore.
On Monday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., former vice presidential nominee and chairman of the House Budget Committee, was asked during an hour-long debate with his Democratic opponent, Rob Zerban, if humans are responsible for climate change.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Ryan said. “I don’t think science does, either.” He added that fighting climate change is expensive and the benefits unproven, and he said that “we’ve had climate change forever.”
Now, it was unclear in the debate whether Ryan thinks climate change – no matter what causes it – is something to worry about, but on the same day – and on the same topic – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel left little doubt about what he thinks.
Hagel issued a warning – the word dire comes to mind – and a long-term, comprehensive plan for the nation’s military in a report presented at an international meeting of defense ministers in Peru:
“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe,” he wrote.
Hagel referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” meaning that it has the potential to make current challenges to national security such as infectious diseases and terrorism even worse.
That, in turn, will have real impacts on the military and how it executes its missions.
For instance, according to the report, the increasing severity of natural disasters could mean the National Guard is deployed more often to provide aid; rising sea levels could cause flooding of key ports; infrastructure and training areas could be threatened by flooding and erosion; supply chains could be interrupted; and climate change could bring global instability to regions with fragile governments, creating an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that would foster terrorism.
Indeed, the U.S. military reached the conclusion that climate change is a threat to national security a long ago, but the report outlines, for the first time, steps the military will take to prepare and eventually deal with the consequences. The Pentagon is in the process of assessing vulnerabilities of the more than 7,000 military bases and installations around the world.
Secretary Hagel writes that scientists are coming to a consensus on climate change, and “politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.” This is a point that Congressman Ryan apparently would disagree with, as would some members of Congress who doubt that climate change exists at all.
It’s also worth noting that while Hagel did not specifically address what’s causing climate change, the report notes that the military will work to curb green houses gases. That would seem to suggest that humans might be a contributor.