Energy, Climate, Politics
Fifteen of the sixteen hottest years in recorded history occurred in the 21st century and 2016 is on track to be the hottest of them. The U.S. military’s latest National Security Strategy considers climate change “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources.” And the near-unanimous scientific consensus attributes the principal cause to human activity.
And yet a disturbing number of politicians dismiss climate change, even suggesting that it was conceived by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Only a minority of Congress accepts the scientific consensus on the issue and barely a third of Americans say they care about climate change. The U.S. spends 28 times as much on traditional military security as on climate security. China leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions, yet China’s security budget shows a better balance between military and climate expenditures.
Are we witnessing a prejudice against science – and “elitist” knowledge in general – to be rejected by “the masses”? Or is the explanation even more unsettling? “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his income depends upon his not understanding it” observed novelist Upton Sinclair. In any event, evidence of climate change is all around us. According to conservative estimates, the global population of climate change refugees will exceed 250 million by 2050. Alaskan glaciers lost 75 billion tons of ice annually between 1994 and 2013 and 86% of Alaska’s native coastal settlements are at severe risk of becoming uninhabitable. Thirty-one have submerged already. Relocating a single Alaskan village costs about $200 million, yet the federal government’s 2015 pledge was a paltry $2 million.
The Pentagon has been warning since 2008 that a warming world will provoke a massive increase in the flow of refugees, violent conflicts over depleted natural resources (especially water), and a sharp spike in energy prices. We are all but disarming ourselves in face of a future that will devastate much of our arable land and food supply. There will be increasingly frequent hurricanes. Rising sea levels will threaten all the world’s coastal cities.
But the US spends tens of billions of dollars for weapons that won’t work and wars we will never fight. If we canceled the F-35, the most expensive weapon system ever, (which cannot perform as well as the systems it replaces), we could build 15 offshore wind projects like the one on Block Island, RI, enough to power 320,000 homes. If we shifted the money currently being spent on the Air Launched Cruise Missile Follow-On, we could install 11.5 million square feet of solar panels, keeping 210,000 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually.
Alas, a remarkable combination of purposeful ignorance and obstinacy has stymied congressional climate action for over a generation. Twice the House attached an amendment to the Defense Authorization explicitly forbidding the Pentagon to address climate threats. Last year a committee even tried to pass a measure to prevent the Pentagon and the CIA from even studying climate science.
We elect these people. Shouldn’t we hold them to account?