President Donald Trump puts a lot of faith in the judgment of generals, but he doesn’t listen to them when it comes to a long-term threat to peace in the world and the security of the United States – climate change.
Stephen A. Cheney, a retired U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general, hopes to change that. As CEO of the American Security Project, a nonpartisan organization, Cheney is making the case that climate change has a powerful effect on the stability of nations and is already challenging the United States’ ability to respond. He thinks putting military experience behind the effort to stem climate change will give the cause more credibility with doubters, if not Trump himself.
The retired general brought his message to the Triangle last week to speak at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences about the effects of climate change on U.S. military operations. He later met with The News & Observer’s editorial board.
Perhaps Cheney’s most compelling point is that long-term changes in the weather lead to changes in economies and living patterns that can trigger military conflicts. He noted that the carnage in Syria had its roots in climate change as much as much as in politics. A drought over several years – the worst in modern Syrian history – dried up farmland and forced as many as 1.5 million rural people to move into Syria’s cities. That displaced population – including many young men without work – helped fuel the rise of ISIS.
Climate change is creating other challenges to military resources. Bigger storms require a bigger response. The U.S. military went to aid of the Philippines in 2013 after Typhoon killed at least 6,300 people. The military also must respond to domestic disasters as the U.S. faces more super storms, such as Hurricane Harvey that slammed into the Texas coast over the weekend.
Beyond the dramatic effects of bad weather and changes in rainfall, Cheney said climate change presents practical problems for military operations. At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C. where Cheney served as the commanding general, extreme heat causes “black flag days” during which training is called off. Rising sea levels are impairing naval operations in Norfolk. More frequent flooding from hurricanes such as Floyd and Matthew in North Carolina damage base buildings and increase costs.
The military can not only adjust to climate change, it can fight it, Cheney said. The military, especially its airplanes, are major users of fossil fuels. Newer, more fuel efficient aircraft would cut that use and alternatives such as bio fuels could be more widely used. On the ground, bases should turn to renewable energy. That would keep bases operating even when the local grid fails and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Cheney and the ASP have a good strategy for the military and the nation. Trump should follow it.