Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday described climate change as a national security threat — at a time when the U.S. military is battling the Islamic State in the Mideast, responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and monitoring tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
The Defense secretary addressed the issue during a speech in Peru, as the Pentagon released a comprehensive report on the “national security” challenges posed by rising global temperatures and “extreme weather events.”
Hagel described climate change as a “threat multiplier,” saying it “has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today — from infectious disease to armed insurgencies — and to produce new challenges in the future.”
The Pentagon’s new report maps out four areas of climate change deemed the most threatening to the U.S. military — rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. And it warns about the impact they could have on food and water supplies, the environment and American security itself.
“Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed,” Hagel said, addressing a conference of military leaders.
Still, while the Pentagon and high-ranking officials have previously warned of the dangers of changing weather patterns and its side effects, the robust focus on the issue is raising questions at a time when the U.S. military is engaged in fighting the advancing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Citing the Islamic State’s recent gains, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement: “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the president and his administration would focus on climate change when there are other, legitimate, threats in the world.”
Inhofe is among the Republican lawmakers in Congress who downplay the impact of climate change, and argue the government is imposing too many changes and regulations to protect against it.
Hagel, and the Pentagon report, argued that changing weather patterns could spur more natural disasters, demanding more military support. More broadly, the report warns that as temperatures rise and severe weather increases, food, water and electricity shortages could create instability in many countries, spreading disease, causing mass migration and opening the door for extremists to take advantage of fractures in already-unstable countries.