Lawmakers were urged to maintain funding of global climate change mitigation and adaptation programs despite the budget deficit.
Public and private partnerships are essential to stability in nations and regions susceptible to climate-driven disruption, former government and military officials wrote in an open letter to members of Congress. Those signing the letter include 16 former lawmakers, such as recently retired Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind) and Joseph Lieberman, (I-CT) and former Cabinet-level officials dating back to the Nixon administration.
The Defense and State departments have recognized climate change as a national security risk, in part because it could spur mass migrations if low-lying countries are inundated by rising sea levels and if agricultural areas experience devastating drought. Such situations could instigate civil conflict requiring diplomatic intervention, according to the letter, which was released by a Partnership for a Secure America, a nonprofit seeking to build bipartisan collaboration on national security issues.
“Protecting U.S. interests under these conditions would progressively exhaust American military, diplomatic and development resources as we struggle to meet growing demands for emergency international engagement,” the letter writers warned.
But in a tight budget situation and a political landscape that has not embraced environmental concerns in recent years, it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will make funding international climate initiatives a priority.
The Pentagon has led an effort to support biofuels in the commercial market in order to reduce the military’s reliance on fossil fuels. Congressional Republicans sought last year to limit the department’s efforts to support biofuels through the annual defense authorization bill, which ultimately held up about $70 million in Pentagon financial backing for a biofuels refinery until the departments of Energy and Agriculture contribute to the cost.
With James M. Inhofe now the top-ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the fight is far from over. The Oklahoma Republican says the Defense Department should not spend money on technologies that may not be commercially viable when it is facing huge spending cuts.
Congressional leaders should use their weekly party luncheons to explain to rank-and-file lawmakers the scientific basis for concluding that human activity is accelerating climate change, said former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md. The Department of Education should ensure that every public high school student learns about climate science, he said.
“To a large extent, it’s an education issue for the masses — not just for the elected officials who may want or who may not care, or who may not want good information,” Gilchrest said.
No matter how strong the scientific or national security arguments are for supporting action on climate change, the financial cost to taxpayers and consumers is bound to be a big part of the debate. “What is going to matter in making changes in the way we use energy in a positive direction is price,” said R. James Woolsey, a CIA director during the Clinton administration