Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Climate change relating to national security threats

419 Dirksen
Wed, 09 May 2007 13:30:00 GMT

“National Security and the Threat of Climate Change
  • Admiral Joseph W. Prueher, USN (Ret.), Former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, Former Ambassador to China
  • General Charles F. Wald, USAF (Ret.), Former Deputy Commander, U.S. European Command
  • Vice Admiral Richard H. Truly, USN (Ret.), Former NASA Administrator, Shuttle Astronaut and the First Commander of the Naval Space Command

10:00 Adm. Prueher We have not yet grappled with the effects of climate change on national security. There are four fundamental changes

  • Climate change is a threat to the national security of the United States
  • Threat multiplier in unstable regions
  • Adds to tensions in stable regions
  • Climate change, national security and energy independence are interconnected

Our energy supply is finite, foreign, and fickle. Our focus on climate change may help us. It is not a distraction. The US alone cannot solve this issue.

What we cannot do is wait.

10:08 Adm. Truly It's hard to see how these marginal areas won't become worse.

Middle East is notable for two resources: oil in its abundance and water in its scarcity.

Another threat is the observed and projected sea level rise and the increase in storms, with its effect on coastal regions. In the Pacific particularly there are literally low-lying island nations that could be inundated. We have strategic installations that are at very low sea level, for example Diego Garcia. Sea level rise will also pose a major risk to the delta regions of the world, such as the mouth of the Ganges at the Bay of Bengal. This is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. A small sea level rise of inches could displace millions of people. As they turn to walk to drier ground, they face the borders of India and East Pakistan.

We are used to normally dealing with single conflicts that are geographically confined. If the Niger river delta becomes flooded and stressed, and the mouth of the Ganges, so will the Yangtse, the Mekong, and the Mississippi at the same time.

The climate models project significant decreases in rainfall in Mexico and South America, which could increase immigration stresses. In the Arctic Ocean, all indications are that the Northwest Passage will become passable part of the year, and later in the century the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summer. Is the Northwest Passage Canadian territorial water, or international?

Also we've heard a lot about melting of the Greenland ice cap and the west Antarctica ice sheet. There's great uncertainty but they are major issues that have to be studied.

We came together with just a few examples of what we've studied the last few months.

10:18 Gen. Wald: Africa. The problems will likely be exacerbated by climate change. We also need to look at massive population migrations, pandemics, and water shortages caused by climate change. Looking at one country, Nigeria. Even with relative prosperity there is very limited government to provide services like water and electricity. If the Niger delta were to be flooded or oil production destroyed by storms, the main income source would be eliminated. The official population of Lagos is 6.5 million; I suspect it's more like 17 million, most of them living in the most abject poverty I've ever seen.

It makes the possibility of conflict very real. Darfur shows us how climate is exacerbating marginal areas. The same could be said of Somalia, where prolonged floods worsened the situation.

There are many reasons why Americans should be concerned by Africa's problems. We import more energy from Africa than from the Middle East.

Other powerful nations including China are taking a powerful interest in Africa, primarily due to oil and mineral resources.

Climate change could be a threat multiplier in every global region.

The Military Advisory Board drew a very narrow line in making these recommendations, sticking only to national security.

Some steps include reconsidering our energy use and carbon emissions, and working with other nations.

10:25 Biden In understanding and planning for national security threats, what would you say to someone that says we're already stretched thin and we shouldn't glorify an environmental issue, add more responsibilities to our intelligence community?

Prueher: There are urgent security issues and important ones. Climate change is an important issue that is on its way to becoming urgent. We have the opportunity to look at it now before it becomes urgent. We can get ahead of this issue. There is momentum with climate change. The situation will continue to worsen. The point of putting it in a National Intelligence Estimate. It needs to be in the NSDs, the quadrennial review.

Biden At some point our ability to respond to climate change will be vastly limited. How much time do we have? My recollection was that report was about 2040 or in that range.

Prueher We looked at that.

Biden Coal accounts for 70% of China's energy use. They have a 10% annual growth rate. What are your views on China's energy situation? He keeps calling Adm. Prueher "General."

Prueher They see their energy use necessary to their economic growth. They have a beginning awareness of environmental hazards. I'd like to extend a bouquet to Sec. Paulson and the baby steps he's taking to get them engaged.

10:32 Biden Do your colleagues share your sense of urgency? Even though they're up to their ankles in alligators, stretched thin.

Wald I doubt most have thought about it as much as we have, but they would catch up quickly. The Army is stretched thin in Iraq but the military is a lot larger than that. I think China can be a competitor without being an adversary, but the jury's out on that. In the European Command we're in the process of recruiting people from US AID, etc. on unconventional threats.

Truly Most of our military today are not paying attention to this issue. I hope my grandson in between deployments to Columbia and Afghanistan is not thinking about climate change. But most would agree that the time to plan would be now.

Biden I met with 15 generals insisting I holler about torture and civil liberties. The most informed people I have met about civil liberties by and large have been wearing stars on their shoulders.

10:36 Lugar How do you go about addressing this in a practical matter? If someone running for office says we'll have CAFE standards, standards for energy efficiency. We're going to prove the automotive industry can innovate fast enough, ditto for the electricy industry. My point is unless there's that kind of leadership, it seems to me inconceivable that the Chinese and the Indians could believe they could do it.

Prueher We're not politicians. I don't know whether someone could win on an environmental ticket. If we try to lead without having our skirts being pretty clean we can get discounted out of hand. If we are doing what we need to do to gain energy security we can at least have the conversation with the Chinese and Indians. Technological solutions is one of our core strengths, and it's part of the answer.

It is possible to do it. It's immoral and irresponsible not to try.

Sec. Paulson's willingness to take baby steps with the Chinese is I think the approach we have to take with them.

10:43 Kerry Some will pass by this hearing. The room is half full, and hlalf the committee is here. But this is one of the most important hearings. I'd like to put an exclamation point on this testimony. In 2004 I did run for president saying all of these things, but they were hidden in a cloak by the discussion on the war on terror and what it was really about. Egypt is full of poverty. If global climate change continues to occur the capacity for extreme ideas and radical madrassas will dramatically increase.

I was with Al Gore in the first hearings. We've been at this issue for 20 years. The science we had 15 years ago is proving true. There's a certainty that it's warming. There's an absolute certainty that humans are contributing to it. If you accept the science, then you are duty bound to accept what they're telling us what is happening. Scientists are conservative in their pronouncements. They say what they can prove. They're all telling us that it's happening at a greater rate than what they predicted. Pre-industrial revolution we had 280 ppm. We're at 380 ppm now. Whereas two years ago they thought we could tolerate a 3 degree Celsius change without catastrophe they've recalibrated that, due to what they're finding. The ice melt, the movement of species, the loss of coral. They're telling us we can tolerate 450 ppm, not 550 ppm. What's already in the atmosphere guarantees a change of 1.5 degrees C. We have about a 70 ppm cushion, 0.5 degree cushion. We can't tolerate any more coal-fired plants if we're going to be responsible.

The foreign delegations are aware of this. Only the United States has refused. That affects our foreign policy. It has a profound impact on people's thoughts that we're a scofflaw. There isn't anything more important than this. Trees and forests are going to migrate.

The technologies are there. We need 10 demonstration projects in the next few years. We shouldn't be contracting any fleet that aren't hybrid or efficient. We can do this. We have a long way to go.

Our military, I believe, is going to have to be far more trained and flexible.  You folks are powerful validators for how important this is.

10:54 Hagel I believe that until we come to a complete understanding that we cannot talk about the environment without talking about energy, the economy, national security. General, you've noted I've spent some time with you in Africa. I believe this deserves the attention Sen. Kerry is talking about.

Let's go to the developing countries. What should this government be doing to help these countries to move this issue forward? China and India. Again. Sheesh. Every single one. They're going to reach to coal. Where does nuclear fit into this? The next president is going to have to deal with this. I'm sorry Sen. Obama isn't here.

Adm. Truly We need to show leadership here in this country so that others will listen to us. I think the federal government needs to show leadership on this issue. It is not principally a matter of technology. It's as much business practices.

Gen. Wald The US is at a crossroads.

With respect to present national security threats, I would put terrorism at number one, with WMD proliferation. I'd put energy security as the next threat, then climate change. I think we need to maintain a conventional fighting capability, but I don't see that as one of our top five threats.

If we do coal-to-liquids, sequestration definitely has to be part. US should definitely take the lead on clean coal technology. If we did everything, we're still going to have some dependency on conventional oil for a couple of decades. We're still going to be vulnerable to other countries. I think the time for discussion is over.

Prueher: The three things I think are: we need to lead. Leadership that requires us to set an example to lessen our energy dependence and carbon emissions. Our core competency in the US, one of them, is technological excellence. We have the most advanced nuclear capability. We're eight years away from building new nuclear power plants. The third is working with other nations. There are a lot of frameworks; like us, the Chinese don't like to be lectured to. The Chinese have our problems in spades.

11:09 Casey What we should be focused on today is what to do about climate change. We all come at this from different vantage points. One fact popped out to me: since 1970, the percentage of the earth's surface subject to drought has doubled. I recognized that leads to famine, hunger, death.

I'm a proud cosponsor of S. 1018 to make this part of our NIE.

I want to move to a more basic part of our national security about readiness. The question I have to ask, what steps should we take just on the question of readiness?

Prueher The impact on readiness is not a question our panel looked directly at. The impacts of global warming on readiness. When Ivan came through Florida, it put the air station out of business for a year. If we look at long-term readiness in terms of our facilities. Adm. Truly talked about Diego Garcia. It'll render it that much more difficult in logistics if stations are taken out. If we move our trucks to hybrids it'll put an increased strain on our military for a while but it'll be worth to do it.

Casey Is there anything we should do in our budgeting?

Prueher Others may have a better sense, but not to my knowledge.

Wald This is not necessarily a zero-sum game. I don't think the conventional part has gone away. What's happened though is that the spectrum of conflicts have expanded. Our focus has been on high intensity threats. We're going to have to face the fact that we have full-spectrum threats. If you look at the tsunami that occured, the floods in Mozambique, the earthquakes, they all required a military response. If these happen more frequently, the military will be used more frequently. There are some budgetary decisions to be made.

11:19 Corker I asked to serve on the foreign relations committee and the energy subcommittee. This is the kind of hearing that puts and exclamation point on the intertwining.

In this committee in the future I hope we will focus on the shortcomings of the leadership of the civilian government (paraphrase).

The perfect is the enemy of the good. We had a renewable standards bill that came out that cut out clean coal because it still has carbon emissions. But that could be very useful for China.

One of the things I'm having a hard time grasping today. How urgent, how closely into the future are we talking about actually occuring?

Prueher When I said important and not urgent I may have overstepped. One, we're not climate scientists. I don't know how urgent it is. We're dealing with uncertainty. There are trends. There are scientists that talk about tipping points. It may be more urgent than we think. These things happen slowly, so we don't tend to notice them, but the causes are already in place. We don't actually know the speed. Given our experience dealing with uncertainty and a high potential risk, now is the time for action.

Truly I think we're late already. We have an entirely industrial revolution's worth of gases in the atmosphere and some of them stay for centuries. We're continuing to build up risk. All the evidence is that we need to act. What we have recommended is to begin serious planning from a national security perspective from the very top. I hope we're wrong. If the conclusion is that new equipment needs to be developed, new frameworks for international interaction, nobody does it better than the DOD, but they respond to leadership from the top.

The climate isn't going to declare war on the United States, it's not that kind of problem. But it's slowly building stress. It needs to be built into all of the planning in order to institutionalize it.

Wald I'm not a scientist but I like to think that I'm smart enough to understand what people tell me. I have homeowner's insurance even though I think the likelihood of my house burning down is about zero. We can't take the risk. It doesn't have to be extremely costly. I don't think the market will take care of itself. I think the suggestions in the report are things we should do today.

11:30 Murkowski This is not falling on deaf ears. Are we getting to China and India the level of urgency or do they view us as a nation that provides 25% of the emissions, it's fine for the US to say that, you have an economy that is strong and solid, you're telling us to put controls. How far are we in truly being able to engage these other nations?

Prueher Increasingly the Chinese are not monolithic. There are segments that understand the environmental dangers. The whole legitimacy of the Chinese leadership comes from raising their people out of poverty. We don't get a lot of traction talking to China about this issue. We have to set a good example and at a glacial rate move this dialogue forward. It will take time, and because it will, we need to start now.

Wald I have a little trouble with the argument that if they don't do it, why should we. I didn't think Kyoto was a very solid treaty but I still think US should have done something. They want to get 600 million people out of poverty. I think the US regardless of China should take action. I think what Sec. Paulson is doing is one of the most important things for our national security. I think anyone who says China isn't doing anything so we shouldn't is pretty immature and is a loser.

11:35 Murkowski To get from where we are today to where we need to be requires a massive change.  We've got to make that change in attitude. There's nothing short of a phenomenal effort to make that change. I appreciate the time you've spent focusing on that next generation of how we provide security.

Truly It is a massive undertaking. From a security perspective it is important to fold all these technologies into the solution. Coal, nuclear, renewables all have their place. To do nothing is not a moral stance that the United States should continue.

11:38 Biden One of my observations is in order to get the nation to respond, when we talk about it in the grand scheme of things, it seems so big, almost beyond our ability to deal with it. People talk about in the long run, we'll all be dead. I agree with Sen. Lugar we have to do things that have real, observable benefits. If we mandate automobiles have to have flex-fuel capability, it just gives the American public the sense there's something they can do. I'm of the idea that a president has the capability to change the mindset of the country. We're a gigantic consumer. If it's doable in the next couple of years, every government vehicle mandate fuel economy. I think the most valuable part of your testimony, the more examples you can give that are bite-size and concrete of what the possible downsides are the better it will be. Al Gore's film gave specific examples.

We need the press to be communicating this idea. It gives them something to talk about it.

11:44 Lugar I agree this panel has been so important this morning. There are a number of people on this panel running for president.


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