The Center for Climate & Security

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on Climate Instability and Political Instability

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on July 18, 2017, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva, gave a detailed description of the impact he understands climate change has (and will have) on the global operating environment in which the armed services operate, and the need for the Department of Defense to be prepared for the threat. Of particular note, he stated: “It will also cause us to have to focus on places where climate instability might cause actual political instability in regions of the world we hadn’t previously had to pay attention to.” That inspires us to shamelessly plug our recent report, “Epicenters of Climate and Security: The New Geostrategic Landscape of the Anthropocene,” which explores a number of possible hot spots of the kind the General is referring to.

Below is both a full transcript of his comments, and a video of the exchange:
Transcript:

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva, USAF:  The dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict. And I’ll just provide one example of how that can happen and this is a man-made problem. The dams along the Nile River control the flow of water into what was the Fertile Crescent of Egypt, and any change to that water flow causes the Egyptians to become more hostile to their neighbors who are putting dams upstream of the Egyptian stretch of the Nile River. I could build that argument in a variety of countries around the world, and those are man-made problems not directly related to climate change but related to how we as humans change our environment. If you extend that argument to the kinds of things that might happen if we see tidal rises, if we see increasing weather patterns of drought and flood and forest fires and other natural events that happen inside of our environment, then we’re gonna have to be prepared for what that means in terms of the potential for instability in regions of the country where those impacts happen. Particularly today where there’s massive food instability. The Sahel in Africa is a classic example, where a small drought over a limited period of time can decimate the crops and cause instability and make that an area fertile for recruitment of extremists because they see no other way. Similarly you could look at the decimation of the fisheries off Somalia that contributed to piracy because the fishermen couldn’t make their livelihood by doing what they do best, which is fishing on the fishing grounds off of Somalia. So I think we need to be prepared for those. It will cause us to have to address questions like humanitarian disaster relief. It will also cause us to have to focus on places where climate instability might cause actual political instability in regions of the world we hadn’t previously had to pay attention to…

Video: