Trump’s Two-Minds on Climate Change Puts America’s Security Last

December 18, 2017 | 5:34 pm
Photo: Ian Swoveland
Shana Udvardy
Senior Climate Resilience Policy Analyst

Today President Trump released the National Security Strategy (NSS) which lays out the Administration’s “America First” vision: a stark departure from decades of previous Administration’s commitment to multilateral engagement.  In another standalone move, President Trump has removed any mention of climate change as a national security threat in the National Security Strategy.

The last National Security Strategy in 2015 under the Obama Administration recognized climate change as one of many global threats we need to prepare for:

Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water. The present day effects of climate change are being felt from the Arctic to the Midwest. Increased sea levels and storm surges threaten coastal regions, infrastructure, and property. In turn, the global economy suffers, compounding the growing costs of preparing and restoring infrastructure.”

President Trump’s National Security Strategy follows his consistent censorship of and attack on science and climate change, but it is also a contradiction to legislation that he just signed into law.

Yes, Just Last Week President Trump Confirmed Climate Change Is a Major Threat to U.S. National Security and Our Armed Forces Overseas

On December 12, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law, recognizing that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.  The act requires the Pentagon to do a report on how military installations and overseas staff may be vulnerable to climate change over the next 20 years.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the language in the bill, it’s worth a read – see Section 335: Report on effects of climate change on Department of Defense – just a few pages in the 740 page bill.

The language recognizes previous statements by Secretary of Defense James Mattis on climate change, including:

‘‘It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.’’


‘‘I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.’’

In addition to citing other high-ranking military staff and reports on climate change impacts, the legislation requires the report to include:

  1. “A list of the ten most vulnerable military installations within each service based on the effects of rising sea tides, increased flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, thawing permafrost, and any other categories the Secretary determines necessary.
  2. An overview of mitigations that may be necessary to ensure the continued operational viability and to increase the resiliency of the identified vulnerable military installations and the cost of such mitigations.
  3. A discussion of the climate-change related effects on the Department, including the increase in the frequency of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, and the theater campaign plans, contingency plans, and global posture of the combatant commanders.
  4. An overview of mitigations that may be necessary to ensure mission resiliency and the cost of such mitigations.”

While POTUS (And Other Climate Change Apologists) Have Their Heads in The Sand, It Doesn’t Mean the Risk Is Gone; In Fact, It’s Growing

In previous blogs (here and here), I’ve spoken to the long history of the military’s understanding of the threat of climate change on our national security.

NAS Key West is Expected to Lose Currently Utilized Land to Sea Level Rise.

Last year, UCS released “The U.S. Military on the Front Lines of Rising Seas” which provides a snapshot of 18 military installations exposure to sea level rise and storm surge.  Without extensive flood risk mitigation measures, we found that by the end of this century, most military installations can expect a large increase in the frequency of tidal flooding, storm surges that cover greater areas at increased depth, and loss of usable land area to the sea.

For Naval Air Station Key West, for instance, the findings were particularly stark. By the end of this century, under a high sea level rise scenario, the installation will be almost completely under water.

In a Navy Times article, the Department of Defense recognized the value of the analysis:
DoD values the UCS’s insights into the impacts of climate change on military installations,” Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Badger told Navy Times. “We welcome their report and its findings. We recognize climate change impacts and their potential threats represent one more risk that we must consider as we make decisions about our installations, infrastructure, weapons systems and most of all, our people.”

Our most recent sea level rise analysis  – “When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of US Coastal Communities” – makes clear the challenges the nation faces from climate change-driven sea level rise.

However, sea level rise is just one of the many climate change risks we’re facing now, and that are growing.

Leaving Climate Change Behind While Addressing National Security Simply Puts America Last, Not First.

While President Trump continues to hold the United States back from acting on climate change, the international community continues to move forward.  In November, my colleague spoke to Syria’s announcement that they would join the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the sole country not joining the global effort to combat climate change.

It’s not only a shame that President Trump will delete climate change as a U.S. threat from his National Security Strategy, it is irresponsible. In fact, the government’s watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), just released a new report last week that finds that when it comes to our military installations overseas, the Department of Defense needs to do better at incorporating climate change in adaptation and planning.

I’ve written previously about the implications of climate change on national security, where I highlight the 2016 report by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and the six key pathways in which climate change will threaten national security. The 5th key pathway addresses the negative impacts on investments and economic competitiveness. It should resonate with the POTUS and be just one of many reasons climate change should not be deleted from the National Security Strategy.

While we have come to expect inconsistency from this administration, we must not accept it when it comes to the vital area of national security. After all, if America is to be first, it cannot risk being unprepared for these climate related risks that threatens our national security.