On Climate Change, Conservatives Continue to Put Politics and Ideology Ahead of Our Security

November 3, 2009

Despite conservative efforts to kill the debate, crucial climate legislation is moving forward today in the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee. The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act will not only strengthen America’s economy by adding jobs and modernizing our industrial base, it will also go far in mitigating the perilous effects that climate change poses to our country’s national security. National security experts, retired military officials, our intelligence community, and many prominent conservatives are in agreement that a rapidly changing climate has a direct impact on our way of life, global stability, and our security as a nation. To prevent these detrimental and preventable impacts to our national security, we need immediate action in the Senate to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change.

However, while bipartisan agreement and international consensus exist on this crucial national security issue, extreme conservatives and climate change deniers are colluding to stifle debate.  At the same time that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington urging U.S. leadership on climate change, extreme conservatives like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) seek to smother critical action for crass political and ideological reasons.  These conservatives stand in opposition to America’s top national security and intelligence experts, who clamor for action and have said that the threat of climate change could “undermine American and international security.”  It is therefore clear that extreme conservative opposition to the serious climate change legislation being marked up today in the Senate is being driven by a desire to place politics and ideology over good policy and the protection of America.

As the world “races ahead,” towards climate negotiations in Copenhagen, American conservatives “obstruct and obfuscate.”  Last week, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and cosponsor of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733), testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works saying, “America’s leadership is also on the line. While the Senate stands still, the world is racing ahead: Japan, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, the EU, and Australia have committed to significant emissions cuts… The truth is, they’ve been coming to the negotiating table with concrete actions and commitments, and they’re waiting for us to do the same!”  In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to address Congress today, where she will request American leadership on climate change.  The Hill reports, “Merkel is likely to press the president to provide robust U.S. support for a climate deal at the Copenhagen conference next month.  ‘The world will be watching Copenhagen,’ she said in a video message this weekend, according to the BBC. ‘The fight against climate change is one of the most urgent tasks worldwide.’”

While progressive leaders in the Senate are working to address this major challenge, conservatives in Congress continue to keep their heads in the sand and obstruct efforts to address climate change and energy security.   AHN reports that, “The GOP plans to boycott the first day of panel debate on a climate change bill crafted by Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).”  Joe Romm of Climate Progress explains further, writing today that, “The GOP’s approach to climate and clean energy policy has remained the same for decades — obstruction and obfuscation.  Now, led by James ‘the last flat-earther’ Inhofe, they are trying to stall climate legislation as long as possible, on the flimsiest of excuses, presumably because they want to make sure that there is no Senate vote on the bill before Copenhagen. The excuse this time is that EPA supposedly hasn’t issued a full analysis of the bill — even though EPA has issued an analysis of the bill pointing out that it has only moderate differences from the heavily-analyzed House bill (Waxman-Markey), none of which would significantly affect the economic conclusions.” [John Kerry, 10/28/09. The Hill, 11/03/09. AHN 11/2/09. Climate Progress, 11/3/09]

There is a clear bipartisan consensus for the view that climate change and energy security are linked national security challenges.  

  • Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, recently wrote together in a New York Times op-ed that, “Even climate change skeptics should recognize that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our energy efficiency strengthens our national security. Both of us served in the military. We know that sending nearly $800 million a day to sometimes-hostile oil-producing countries threatens our security. In the same way, many scientists warn that failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to global instability and poverty that could put our nation at risk.” [John Kerry and Lindsey Graham, NY Times, 10/10/09]
  • Sen. John Warner (R-VA) (Ret.), former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said  on Clean Skies this weekend that, “People don’t normally think of climate change and maybe energy as relating to the men and women of the armed forces, but when the President as Commander in Chief under the Constitution, orders a relief mission, like we did with the tsunami, it is the men and women of the armed forces that fly the airplanes carrying the supplies, bring up the ships that provided fresh water, so the military becomes involved… So the military is involved in these missions when climatic conditions or political conditions or the shortage of energy or the shortage of water or mass migrations develop an instability in the government structure of nations.”   He also said in an earlier appearance on the same show that, “I personally am in favor of our nation moving forward with a piece of legislation so we define first what we do know about the problem now and what corrective changes all of us… should be working to try and eliminate the very large amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that are being released into the atmosphere which are causing, clearly before our eyes, changes in the arctic ice, the sea change… the severity of droughts… So I think that it’s important that we as a nation address it.” [Sen. John Warner, Clean Skies News, 11/01/09. Sen. John Warner, Clean Skies News, 08/15/09]
  • Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey co-authored a report from the Center for New American Security that, “makes clear that we are already living in an age of consequences when it comes to climate change and its impact on national security…  [T]he number of people forced to move in the coming decades could dwarf previous historical migrations…. The possibility of such a significant portion of humanity on the move, forced to relocate, poses an enormous challenge even if played out over the course of decades,” reports the Christian Science Monitor. [CNAS, 11/07]
  • Retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn wrote in the New York Times this summer that, “climate change will lead to increased conflicts around the world because of water and agricultural shortages, changes in patterns of human migration, and further destabilization in areas like South Asia, potentially fostering an increase in global terrorism.  Climate change has already contributed to conflicts in regions like Darfur; it has already affected United States military operations; and it will increasingly affect American military planning for contingencies around the world. And if we don’t lead the way on curbing these changes, others will.” NY Times, 8/20/09]
  • Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State from the first George W. Bush administration even said that, “If I had to say what might be the biggest long term threat I’d say it might be climate change.” [Richard Armitage, 6/16/09]
  • Sharon Burke, Vice-President of the Center for New American Security (CNAS), before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer saying, “[c]limate change may well be a predominant national security challenge of the 21st century, posing a range of threats to U.S. and international security.” [Sharon Burke, 7/21/09]


Extreme conservatives attempt to stifle national security climate legislation without providing either serious alternatives or solutions.
There is widespread consensus that climate change is real, constituting a serious threat to our way of life.  In recent testimony before the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator John Kerry urged action, saying that the “the science is more definitive than ever and more troubling than ever, and – 21 years since first Senate hearings on climate change back in 1988—the evidence is now clearer than ever before that a voluntary approach won’t get the job done…”  The CIA also recognizes the implications of climate change will have serious, destabilizing consequences for national security. The agency announced in a press release that, “The Central Intelligence Agency is launching the Center on Climate Change and National Security as the focal point for its work on the subject…Its charter is not the science of climate change, but the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources. The Center will provide support to American policymakers as they negotiate, implement, and verify international agreements on environmental issues…’ said Director Leon Panetta.”  A joint report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) described destabilizing conditions arising from global warming, such as intensifying “tropical cyclones” that force resettlement in the coastal U.S. and “water shortages” in Mexico “which will drive immigration into the United States,” as well as rising sea levels in the Caribbean.  Climate change also carries the potential to exacerbate violent conflict.  The confluence of problems brought about by climate led the National Intelligence Council, in its recent Global Trends 2025 report, to argue that global warming was one of three major threats that could destabilize the international system. The NIC warned that climate refugees, resource wars, and an increase in destructive weather events could all undermine American and international security

Despite the prevailing recognition that climate change is a serious national security issue, extreme conservatives are content to keep their heads in the sand.  The Politico reports that “Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer tried to extend an olive branch to Republicans on climate change Monday evening, extending a deadline for them to offer amendments to her global warming legislation.  According to Politico, instead of reciprocating Boxer’s gesture, “[t]he seven Republicans on the committee plan to boycott a Tuesday legislative hearing about the bill unless Boxer agrees to wait for additional economic analysis of the bill. As part of their boycott, none of the seven Republicans on the committee offered amendments to the bill by the Monday morning deadline.”  This obstructionist stance is consistent with the position of extreme conservatives on Capitol Hill:

  • Sen. James Inhofe, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee: “Between the years of 1998 and 2005, I was the only member of the United States Senate who would take on what I call ‘the Hollywood elitists’ and the United Nations on this hoax called global warming and I went through seven years of purgatory on that issue.” [Countrywide and the Sun, 6/26/09]
  • Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) called climate change “a hoax” on the floor of the House, receiving applause from his conservative colleagues.  [Rep. Paul Broun, via Think Progress, 6/26/09]
  • Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), chairman of the House Republican Caucus: “the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.” [Rep. Mike Pence, (R – IN), via Think Progress, 5/05/09]
  • House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH): “the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it’s clear.” [ABC News, 4/19/09]

[Senator John Kerry (D – MA), Legislative Hearing on S. 1733, Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, 10/28/09. CIA, 9/25/09. Center for New American Security & Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11/07. Global Trends 2025, 11/08. Politico, 11/2/09]

What We’re Reading

Recently reelected Afghan President Hamid Karzai vows to stem the spread of corruption in his government, but will not offer any details of his proposal.

The Pakistani Taliban continues their fight against the Pakistani government, with their latest bombing in Rawalpindi killing 35 people.

Delays in voting on an election law in Iraq are continuing to worry military commanders on the ground in Iraq, who based their withdrawal plans on Iraqis successfully executing another national election.

Domestic politics in Iran may explain the Iranian leadership’s hesitation over whether or not to accept the international community’s proposal to export Iranian nuclear fuel. Protests stemming from June’s presidential election continue on college campuses across Iran, with plans for a large student protest coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy.

Newly released testimony shows Vice President Dick Cheney offering novel defense of his leaks of classified information to reporters during the Valerie Plame-Joe Wilson scandal.

The United Nations suspends aid to the Congolese Army following an investigation of the extrajudicial killings of 62 civilians while it conducted military operations against rebel groups.

Fears grow as Mexican drug cartels recruit and incorporate children into their operations with a growing frequency.

Arms embargos are forcing the North Korean military to conduct a wholesale takeover of the economy in order to sustain funding.

Indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic promises to appear at his next hearing as his trial in The Hague continues.

Facing strong criticism, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defends the comments she made that have been interpreted as too conciliatory towards Israel’s settlement policy.

Commentary of the Day

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times offer concrete steps for both President Obama and President Hamid Karzai to take in order to improve governance in Afghanistan.

Moyara Ruehsen offers the latest details on what is happening in Afghanistan’s heroin markets, and explains why punishing Afghan farmers who grow poppy plants cannot be the cornerstone of the Unites State’s counternarcotics policy.

Anne Applebaum offers a portrait of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, describing her success as stemming from Europe’s craving for her anti-Obama personality: zero charisma and zero glamour.

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