Climate change will force U.S. intervention in new conflicts, report finds

U.S. military and humanitarian resources will be stretched thin as climate change destabilizes vulnerable regions of the world, says a report released today alongside a new advertising campaign.

The "Climate Security Index" analysis, by the American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, warns that the biggest trouble spots are in South Asia, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.

In these regions especially, the study says, climate change will exacerbate regional tensions and increase the risk of conflict, mass migration and humanitarian emergencies -- likely forcing U.S. intervention.

"American leaders will face a multitude of tough choices as climate-induced national security threats begin to compete with and crowd out our ability to respond to traditional threats such as terrorism, rogue states, and the rise of peer competitors," the authors wrote.

The findings will be released today at a Washington, D.C., event headlined by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is knee-deep in crafting the language of a climate bill with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).


There, the American Security Project also will announce a new offensive to link national security to climate change in the minds of policymakers and the public.

Yesterday, it launched a print and television ad campaign, targeted in the District of Columbia, and a new Web site. External relations director Selena Shilad said it has spent a "mid-six-figure" sum for the ads and is raising funds for a nationwide education campaign.

Some see danger in overselling climate risks

One print ad reads: "Generals, Admirals and Nobel Prize-Winning Scientists agree: global warming is a major threat to our national security. Why? Because when crops start burning and wells run dry, entire populations will be dislocated worldwide. Governments will topple, and terror will rise. And our borders will be threatened like never before."

These are words that might worry others. In a recent editorial, Geoff Dabelko, director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, cautioned against overselling the security threats of climate change.

He said he fears a repeat of the mid-1990s, when advocates oversold and therefore undermined very real links between environmental problems and human conflict. "Today, 'climate security' is in danger of becoming merely a political slogan that glosses over the complexity of climate's security challenges," he said.

The American Security Project is banking that there is room for its efforts to pay off. Yesterday, it also released a telephone poll of 800 registered voters that it sponsored in early August. The poll found that 55 percent of respondents considered climate change a serious threat to U.S. national security.

"What we found quite simply is that it's an argument that polls really well," said Shilad.

Meanwhile, the report frames a dire situation, citing one estimate that climate change already contributes to 300,000 deaths a year.

North Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, in the future, will be particularly vulnerable to conflicts, as droughts worsen, river and sea levels rise, and glacier-fed water resources diminish. In sub-Saharan Africa, the collapse of states, massive refugee flows and increased conflicts will become more common.

But reducing dependence on foreign oil calls for 'ruthless' action

The report also chronicles the ways in which America's dependence on foreign oil is a major security risk, especially at vulnerable naval "choke points" along tanker routes and in the face of growing piracy on the high seas.

But while it is a connected issue, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil requires policies that go beyond or are different froms those that cut greenhouse gas emissions. For every additional dollar that a ton of carbon emissions costs, for example, the price of gasoline at the pump only rises by a penny, said former CIA Director R. James Woolsey at an event earlier this week.

This will not be fast enough, he warned. "We need to not just use less of it. We need to not just drill for more of it here. We need -- in the interests of our national security -- to destroy its monopoly over transportation. Quickly. Devastatingly. Ruthlessly."

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