The National Security Implications of Climate Change

A New York Energy Week event on Tuesday, June 25, proved lively as three military panelists spoke candidly and on the record about climate change and its energy security implications. Panelist Brig. Gen. Steven M. Anderson was perhaps the most outspoken, declaring that as a conservative Republican he believes his party’s leadership is “out to lunch when it comes to climate change.”


Though the remark prompted a reminder that he was in the presence of reporters, he did not back down. “Those guys are missing the boat,” continued Anderson, a retired U.S. Army official who served as Chief of Logistics in Iraq under Gen. David Petraeus. “Republicans are supposed to be about building the economy and making our nation strong. There’s a golden opportunity out there with renewable energy. It will make Silicon Valley look small.” He then added, “If there’s truly an across-the-aisle, non-denominational issue, it’s climate change—or it should be.”

The event, “Redefining U.S. Energy Security in the 21st Century,” was organized by The Climate Group, The American Security Project, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Amy Davidsen (U.S. executive director of The Climate Group) moderated the panel, which included Anderson along with Vice Adm. Lee Gunn (U.S. Navy, retired) and Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Cheney (U.S. Marine Corps., retired). The Human Impacts Institute (HII) attended at the invitation of The Climate Group, with which HII partners every year as part of Climate Week NYC.

The panelists spoke passionately about the impacts of fossil fuel dependence on military personnel. Anderson spoke of the “incredible costs” associated with moving fuel to remote areas in Iraq and Afghanistan, not just in terms of money—$20 billion a year—but in “blood.” According to Anderson, more than 1,000 Americans have died moving fuel or supporting fuel missions since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Instead of guarding convoys, we should be engaging the enemy,” he said.

Cheney echoed Anderson’s sentiments about the difficulties of keeping military personnel supplied with the power they need: “Ask any Marine whether they’d rather be carrying bullets or batteries, and they’ll tell you they’d prefer the former,” he said. The panelists called for sustained financial support for Research and Development into alternative energy technologies. Noting that R&D funding is currently under threat from sequestration—which Cheney likened to eating “your seed corn”—Cheney reminded the audience of the crucial role government funding played in the development of fusion energy and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technology.

In a speech about climate change earlier in the day, President Barack Obama had spoken of natural gas—now in abundant supply largely due to breakthroughs in fracking technology—as a “transition fuel.” This oft-used term references the relatively lowercarbon footprint of gas compared to coal, from which Americans derive nearly half of their electricity.


Acknowledging the importance of the president’s speech, Gunn nonetheless expressed concerns. “As long as we don’t divest ourselves from the use of oil and even natural gas,” he said, “we’ll be entangled with regimes” whose fates are also entwined with fossil fuels. Echoing concerns about the far-reaching impacts of struggles outside U.S. borders, Cheney added that the changing climate—which prompts large-scale migrations and disputes over increasingly scarce resources—“has huge national security implications.”

The panel expressed the need for sustained momentum around the issue of climate change. “Where’s the meat?” asked Gunn, referencing the president’s speech. The panelists called for further action, recommending that the president require theDepartment of Defense to prioritize energy efficiency. Furthermore, said Anderson, the DOD “can and should lead the way in developing renewable energy technologies.”

Gunn cautioned specifically against using the abundance of natural gas as an excuse to heave “a sigh of relief and go back to daily business.” He added, “If we relax on our way to the new energy economy, it will be led by someone else.”

For more from Gunn, Anderson, and Cheney, see their op-ed, published on the day preceding President Obama’s speech, here.

By Nora Ankrum, Environmental Leadership Intern, Human Impacts Institute

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