Over the past three years, I’ve been steeped in the world of climate change and national security. With a great team of folks at PF Pictures (makers of Do the Math, Disruption and Disobedience) we set out to make a groundbreaking bi-partisan climate change film and realized there was no better angle than national security and no better messengers than the military themselves. The film is called The Age of Consequences.
I’ve found myself in the war gaming room at the Naval War College; filming on the roof of a building at the largest naval base in the world; and have become friends with a Rear Admiral. I never thought about how much our military cared about climate change until I was making a movie about it. Turns out, they’ve been taking it seriously for over two decades! From high level strategic documents (that are still alive and so far unthreatened) such as the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Department of Defense Directive on Climate Change and Resilience, it’s clear our Department of Defense is not messing with the politics of climate change. From sea level rise impacting bases to extreme weather events increasing humanitarian disasters to the multiplication of conflict around the world, our military has no choice but to take climate change seriously.
So a couple of days ago, a new National Security Statement (NSS) was released and climate change is not included. Earlier this year the National Defense Authorization Act was signed by President Trump and does include climate change, so this version of the NSS seems like we’re going backwards. I’m on a Climate Security Working Group listserv of military experts and dedicated organizations who are on top of the issue. My friends at the Center for Climate and Security sent around a briefing that summarizes the situation well:
1. It’s very unfortunate that climate change is not being explicitly addressed as a national security threat in the NSS. Not least as President Trump just signed a defense bill that declared climate change a national security threat, and his own Department of Defense is taking the matter very seriously.
2. The NSS is a primarily a political document, and not much of a strategy – it has little impact on the daily impact of the Department of Defense. Through signing the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the President has already officially acknowledged climate change as a security threat. It’s odd for the NSS to contradict that.
3. This shouldn’t only be seen as a reversal of an Obama-era priority. Climate change was also viewed as a national security threat by the George W Bush Administration. This is inconsistent with the bipartisan consensus on the issue- remember that there is a growing bipartisan climate solutions caucus in Congress.
4. The NSS document does not deny the problem entirely, however. It states “The United States will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while growing its economy.” That is language we can hold the Administration to.
5. Moreover, it is clear that the Secretary of Defense and the Republican Congress both acknowledge the threat and will ensure we address it on a practical level. The National Defense Authorization Act requires by law that the DoD has to report climate risks to congress.
So… what does this all mean? It means that not all is lost. It means that progress isn’t linear but is sometimes up and down. It means that we live in a chaotic world and that the biggest gift is that we are alive to do something about it. Despite all the craziness of a climate changed world, may we all find some peace and gratitude over the next few weeks. And then come January, we get back to creating the world we really want to live in.