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Takeaways from the U.S. House Oversight Hearing on Climate Security

Secretary Hagel_2019_4_09

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel discusses the national security risks of climate change before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, April 9, 2019

By John Conger

On April 9, the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hosted a hearing on “The Need for Leadership to Combat Climate Change and Protect National Security,” including former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Secretary of State John Kerry as witnesses.

Secretaries Hagel and Kerry recently signed a letter to President Trump urging him not to create a panel to second-guess military and intelligence expert judgments on climate change.

Moreover, the very day of the hearing, the Washington Post published a story noting that “As the White House questions climate change, the U.S. military is planning for it.”

There was certainly a sharp contrast between this discussion and the ones that took place on climate and security at the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which were more focused on security risks, opportunities and possibilities for bipartisan action. The hearing was also a sharp contrast from the statements of Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein and Commander of European Command General Curtis Scaparotti, who made practical assessments about how climate change was emboldening U.S. adversaries.  For example, in the earlier hearings there was little to no science debate and far more conversation on military installation resilience, and discussion of the strategic implications of Chinese and Russian actions in the opening Arctic.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing all too often diverted into debates about the underlying science and criticism of the Green New Deal proposal.

However, shortly after one member asserted that no military funding should be spent on climate change, Secretary Hagel offered a vivid example of climate change-related threats are already impacting our military.

Secretary Hagel noted the impacts of hurricanes on Tyndall Air Force Base and the damage to 17 F-22 fighter aircraft.  He cited the readiness impacts at North Carolina bases when damaged buildings and infrastructure, and recovery, divert troops from what they should be doing.

His bottom line: “It is very clear that planning for climate change is not some frivolous waste of time or waste of money.  It is essential to our troops and to their wellbeing and to the national security of our country.”


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