PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday July 9th, 2015, 3:50pm

Retired Military Officers Discuss National Security Implications Of Climate Change

Senior retired military officers with the American Security Project were in Chicago Thursday to call attention to what they say is a grave national security threat -- climate change.

Climate change is a national security threat, and greater action to curb its effects should be taken, senior retired military officers with the American Security Project (ASP), a national nonpartisan think tank, said in Chicago Thursday.

ASP leaders were in Chicago as part of the group's cross country informational tour on the national security implications of climate change.

Speaking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located in the Loop along Chicago's riverwalk, retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, an ASP board member who served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years, said climate change is "perhaps the most grave threat facing the United States today from a national security perspective."

"The military, the Navy considers (climate change to be) both an operational matter and a matter that's associated with the stresses that are going to be put on American sailors, Marines, soldiers, airmen, coast guardsmen in the future," he said.

The Department of Defense, which released a "Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap" last year, considers climate change to be a "threat multiplier." That's because "it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today - from infectious disease to terrorism," former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in the forward of the climate change report.

In explaining the "threat multiplier" theory at today's event, ASP senior fellow Andrew Holland said climate change "makes already unstable places that much more unstable." And with greater instability in various areas comes a potential increase in demand for American military intervention around the globe, Holland said.

A press statement from ASP further detailed the far-reaching national security implications of climate change: "Resource scarcity, extreme weather, food scarcity, water insecurity and sea level rise will all threaten societies around the world. Too many governments are not prepared for these threats, either because they do not have the resources or because they have not planned ahead. How those societies respond to the increase in instability will determine whether climate change will lead to war."

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, ASP's CEO and member of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board, highlighted some recent extreme weather events in the United States and around the world that have required American military assistance. 

More than 13,000 U.S. military personnel were deployed to the Philippines, for example, as part of a relief effort after Typhoon Haiyan struck in 2013. 

"I'm not saying climate change caused that particular typhoon, but it certainly contributed to it," Cheney said. 

He also pointed to the U.S. military support that was required after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.

There are also concerns about how climate change could harm U.S. military bases and stations, Gunn said. 

He noted that 30 U.S. Navy facilities, for example, are located on shorelines. 

"Many of them are threatened by even a modest sea level rise," Gunn said. 

Potential climate change effects on agriculture in Illinois and the Midwest region could also pose risks to national security, Holland explained.

"If farm yields go down, that affects prices of corn and wheat around the world," Holland said. "Local events [like] a drought in the Midwest ... feed into international problems and issues."

ASP leaders stressed the importance of ramping up climate action efforts.

"We know what's causing climate change," Cheney said. "It's our contribution (of) CO2 and the burning of fossil fuels, and we've got to get off of that ... We're for anything that gets us off the burning of fossil fuels, and our contribution to the pollution of the atmosphere, and reduces climate change."

The United States, Gunn added, must continue its leadership around addressing global climate change.  

"As the need becomes greater to confront the consequences of climate change, America needs to reassert her leadership in technology, research and development in order to take advantage of this and guide the world into the new energy future we all know is going to be required," he said.

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