Climate change is not a distant problem for future generations to worry about. Instead, the dangers of climate change are touching the lives of more Americans with each passing day. As the historic wildfires, hurricanes, floods, heatwaves and storms hitting the country this summer demonstrate, these crises are getting more frequent and more intense as the global temperature rises. Scientists tell us that the longer we delay transitioning to a clean, renewable economy, the more intense the impacts and the closer we come to reaching dangerous climate tipping points.
These risks have a severe impact on the military’s ability to keep Americans safe. We’ve seen the destructive impact that weather disasters are having on US military bases, from the marine corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Florida’s Tyndall air force base. They are also striking our neighborhoods, from rural farms to dense cities, requiring heroic rescue operations by the national guard. Climate impacts make the homeland more vulnerable, while also threatening American interests abroad. Because of this, national security leaders see climate change as a “threat multiplier” – increasing and exacerbating all other other risks our nation is already facing, from global terrorism to great power conflict.
This spring, we published a report looking at the impact that continued global warming would have on US national security over the next few decades. The findings were frightening. If we continue on our current trajectory, the United States will see worse disasters, droughts, storms and economic impacts, risking the lives of everyday Americans and our troops.
Most leaders would see these dangers as serious risks to American safety and prosperity, immediately rallying to confront the threat. But Donald Trump has done just the opposite in his term as president. He’s ignored warnings from senior military and intelligence leaders, called climate change a “hoax”, abandoned global efforts such as the Paris climate agreement, and doubled down on policies that help fossil fuel polluters. Just last week, he looted the Fema budget needed to rebuild the homes of victims of Hurricane Laura, to the tune of $44bn.
Our government should be helping Americans stay safe in their communities, rather than ignoring their pleas when climate disasters strike. Our commander-in-chief should do everything they can to protect our men and women in uniform, rather than censoring the Pentagon’s own analysis of climate threats. And the so-called leader of the free world should be solving global problems, rather than abandoning them.
If the world stands any chance of minimizing the dangers of the climate crisis before it’s too late, we need an America who will lead the way. This means prioritizing climate change as a top foreign policy and national security priority in all of our country’s global relationships. It also means spurring American jobs and innovation to help the world quickly mitigate and adapt to climate change. And it means investing in the safety of US communities by rapidly transitioning to clean and resilient homes, infrastructure and energy systems.
If elected, Joe Biden will need to sprint to get the world on track and avoid the worst of climate change. This crisis might be the most high-stakes of them all, with the risk to American homes and safety increasing with each year of inaction.
Sherri Goodman is the former US deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security
Kate Guy is a US doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, researching climate change and national security