U.S. Congress nips move to stop military from studying climate change

Corn farmer Kela Gelo

Corn farmer Kela Gelo in the village of Buya near Yabello, Southern Ethiopia. He only got a few ears this year because of the drought. (© Peter Essick/Aurora Photos)

In a surprising move, dozens of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives last week joined with Democrats to defeat a measure that would have prevented the U.S. Department of Defense from studying the effects of climate change on the military.

The measure, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — the law that spells out the U.S. military’s policies and programs — would have blocked a study into climate impacts and removed language from the act calling climate change a “direct threat” to U.S. national security. Forty-six Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the amendment.

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The amendment’s defeat is just the latest sign of growing recognition of the far-reaching implications of climate change on national and global security — an issue that has been on the U.S. military’s radar for decades. Climate change threatens to ma​ke parts of the planet uninhabitable or inhospitable while worsening poverty, swamping coastli​nes and​ destroying infrastructure — fueling political upheaval, human migration and increased demand for fewer resources.

“The nature and pace of climate changes being observed today … are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security,” according to a 2007 report by the Military Advisory Board, a panel of high-level U.S. military officers. “It is important that the military begin planning to address these potentially devastating effects.”

Two Republicans, Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), argued against the amendment last week, The Hill reported. The effects of climate change “are drivers of geopolitical instability and degrade the security of the United States,” Stefanik said. “We would be remiss in our efforts to protect our national security to not fully account for the risk climate change poses to our bases, our readiness and to the fulfillment of our armed services mission.”

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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