By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry today helped launch a new initiative to educate lawmakers and the public about the security threats posed by climate change, part of the Massachusetts Democrat's efforts to build support for legislation to curb carbon emissions.
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was the keynote speaker at a symposium co-sponsored by the American Security Project, a bipartisan nonprofit established in Washington last year.
The organization, with a mission to educate the public about 21st century security threats, will unveil a new report, the Climate Security Index, that spells out how famine, water shortages, and other predicted consequences of climate change could increase terrorism and spark new wars if left unchecked.
At the same time, the organization is launching a new television advertisement that depicts some of the cataclysmic events that could occur, from famine to flood and massive numbers of refugess. "Scientists and military experts agree: The next global hot spot won't be a spot at all," the TV ad warns, showing an image of the planet. "Global warming threatens our security."
The ad, which will initially air on cable stations in the Washington area, will soon be broadcast elsewhere around the country. It can be viewed here.
Kerry is helping to craft climate change legislation in the Senate and has used his perch on the foreign relations panel to give voice to a growing number of national security specialists -- including retired generals and admirals -- who have warned that the instability created by global warming will draw the United States into more conflict in the coming decades.
“Worldwide, climate change risks making the most volatile places even more combustible,” Kerry said in his speech today. “Climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system. In an interconnected world, that endangers all of us.”
His full prepared speech is below:
KERRY'S PREPARED SPEECH
Eight years ago today, on September 10th, 2001, America experienced one last moment of complacency before plunging into crisis. That day, the world was already being transformed, but too few knew or understood the new era we were about to enter.
On September 10, Washington was consumed with business as usual. The top headline in the New York Times read, “Fear of Recession Ignites Discussion of More Tax Cuts”—we know how that turned out.
Cable news was wrapping up an entire summer of wall-to-wall coverage of Americans under attack. Unfortunately, the grave threat they warned us about came not from al Qaeda or Bin Laden, but from sharks attacking swimmers at the beach.
In retrospect, it’s hard to fathom the level of collective naiveté, but that was America’s reality on “the day before.” In the weeks and months that followed, so many in rooms just like this one shared the same regret: Washington simply didn’t connect the dots in time.
Well, today Adil Najam, Michael Oppenheimer, and I, along with many others, are working to connect the dots on another emerging threat. Once again the world is being upended, and too few are taking action. The latest science warns that we have a ten-year window – at most – to prevent catastrophic, irreversible climate change. That means we are once again living in a “day before” moment that cries out for action.
This is not hype. I’m not trying to compare two challenges that, frankly, are incomparable to each other or anything else in our history. I’m not arguing that we view the wide-ranging threat of climate change entirely through the narrow lens of terrorism—though there are good reasons to think that climate change could worsen the terrorist threat.
The real lesson of “the day before,” ladies and gentlemen, is that when we see a threat on the horizon, we can’t afford to wait until it arrives. Unless we take dramatic action – now— to restrain global climate change, we risk unleashing an aggressive new challenge to global stability, to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, and yes, to America’s national security.
Frankly, we have no excuse to be caught by surprise in 2009. It was 1988 when Al Gore and I held the first Senate hearings on climate change, and NASA scientist Jim Hansen testified that the threat was real. Four years later, Al and I and a group of Senators went to Rio and worked with 177 other nations to put in place a voluntary framework for greenhouse gas reductions. Unfortunately, 17 years after Rio, 12 years after Kyoto, we are further behind than ever.
Facts, as the saying goes, are “stubborn things,” and here are a few incontrovertible ones: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen 38% in the industrial era, from 280 to 385 parts per million. Scientists have warned that anything above 450— a warming of 2 degrees Celsius– would result in an unacceptable risk of catastrophic climate change. Some scientists even set the maximum at 350, but that’s too terrifying for many to contemplate since we're currently at 385. In short, the science is screaming at us, more definitively than ever.
And the simple reality is, we’re not doing nearly enough about it. The Heinz Center, MIT, and The Fletcher School analyzed the latest climate modeling from the 17 countries who have offered to do anything – China, 20% energy intensity reduction; Europe and the US, 80% reduction by 2050. The result? Even if we met today’s ambitious goals, we’re projected to hit 600-700 ppm by century’s end. Bottom line: none of the current proposals get the job done. In short, the challenge is growing more – not less—urgent.
Let me be clear: The threat we face is not an abstract concern for the future. It is already upon us. A new study in Science shows our CO2 emissions have already reversed a 2,000 year cooling trend in the Arctic, and the last ten years are the warmest since 1BC! At the other end of the globe, a 25-mile wide ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf to the Antarctic landmass shattered earlier this year.
We are deluding ourselves if we think these problems stop at our borders: the tiny coastal village of Newtok, Alaska, recently voted to relocate 9 miles inland because melting coastal ice shelves made their old home too dangerous. No longer can Newtok’s residents “see Russia from their porch” (if they ever could)—but go to Alaska and you can see with your own two eyes the impact of its permafrost melting. You need only talk to Alaska’s Senators to hear worrisome stories of warming’s direct impact on their state. Not projected impact—current impact.
Alaska’s melting is not a future prediction or possibility. It is being measured, and it is happening now. More than one-third of Americans live in coastal counties. As climate change intensifies, we risk repeating the story of Newtok, Alaska further south and on a terrifying scale.
People are taking notice. Our Pentagon and intelligence community have begun planning for climate contingencies, and security experts have been sounding the alarm. In 2007, eleven former Admirals and high-ranking generals issued a report from the Center for Naval Analysis labeling climate change a “threat multiplier” with “the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today.” In 2008, a National Intelligence Assessment echoed these warnings from inside government. General Anthony Zinni was characteristically blunt in assessing the threat. He warned that without action—and I quote—“we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll." This not an alarmist talking—it’s the former commander of all American forces in the Middle East!
Why, with so many other regional problems brewing, would a CENTCOM commander be so concerned about climate? Well, the Middle East is home to six percent of the world’s population but just two percent of the world’s water. A demographic boom and a shrinking water supply will only tighten the squeeze on a region that doesn’t need another reason to disagree violently.
Worldwide, climate change risks making the most volatile places even more combustible. Climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism, and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system. In an interconnected world, that endangers all of us.
I’d be the first to acknowledge, the individual data points may sometimes be murky. But the pattern they create is irrefutably clear: We don’t know if Hurricane Katrina or the California forest fires were caused by climate change, but we do know that we are rapidly heading for a world where climate change causes worse Katrinas and worse forest fires. We don’t know with certainty whether severe drought pushed Darfur over the edge, but we do know that increasingly severe droughts worldwide will exacerbate ethnic tensions and conflicts even further.
Nowhere is the nexus between today’s threats and climate change stronger than in South Asia–the center of our counterterrorist operations and the home of Al Qaeda. Scientists are now warning that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply water to almost a billion people from China to Afghanistan—including three nuclear powers—could disappear completely by 2035.
Think about what this means: Water from the Himalayas flows through India into Pakistan. India’s rivers are not only vital to its agriculture, but absolutely central to its religious practice. Pakistan, for its part, is heavily dependent on irrigated farming to avoid famine. At a moment when the American government is pouring troops and resources into Afghanistan and preparing to invest billions to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to deliver for its people, it’s infuriating to think that climate change could work so powerfully against our long-term goals.
Meanwhile, by some estimates, next year more people will be displaced worldwide by environmental changes and natural disasters than by war. Because food security depends on water security, which climate change threatens, yields from rain-fed crops could drop by up to 50% by 2020—pushing more people off their land. Africa, no stranger to the instability, conflict, and competition over resources that drive people from their homes and create refugees and internally displaced people, will now confront these same challenges with an ever growing population of “EDPs”—environmentally displaced people.
Many of the worst impacts of climate change will be human tragedies—natural disasters, more virulent disease, and people forced to flee their homes. Some will directly touch on our security and vital national interests. Others will require America, as the country with the world’s best and fastest expeditionary capacity, to offer direct assistance. And even when our security and our resources are not directly challenged by the impacts of climate change, our leadership will be—and our conscience ought to be.
In addition to the increased demand for expeditionary capacity, the effects of a changing climate will also pose significant practical challenges for our military. Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean, a vital hub for our military operations across the Middle East, sits on an atoll just a few feet above sea level. Norfolk, VA, home to our Atlantic Fleet, will be submerged by one meter of sea level rise. All of our Navy’s piers are actually cemented to the ocean floor—which means that any rise in sea level will literally require the Navy to rebuild all of them. Are these problems insurmountable? No. But they will be expensive, and they risk compromising our readiness.
We all know the future has a way of humbling those who try to predict it too precisely. But we also know, from scientists and security experts, that the threat is real, grave, and growing. And if we fail to connect the dots—if we fail to take action—the simple reality is that we will find ourselves living not only in a ravaged environment, but also in a much more dangerous world.
Even as we make the case for climate change as a national security issue, we should remember that there are other costs of inaction. We also run the risk of missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the world into a new economic era. If we take the steps and invest the resources necessary to meet this challenge, we can spark an economic renaissance of new technologies, new industries, and – just when we need them most—millions of new jobs.
With more than 15 million Americans out of a job, the need couldn’t be any more compelling for an economic strategy to get people back to work in good, high-paying jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.
Some say we can’t afford to act. They have it exactly wrong—we can’t afford not to act! We are already falling behind unnecessarily. It was Americans who developed the technological foundations of wind, solar, and advanced battery power. And yet just one of the top five wind power manufacturers is American; just one of the 10 largest solar panel producers is American; only two of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers are American.
The world’s largest producer of renewable energy is not the United States, but Germany. And the economic benefits, as well as the environmental gains, are obvious: More than 280,000 Germans are employed in the renewable energy sector—a nine-fold increase in the past decade. While other countries debated how much their emissions could increase, since 1990 Germany has actually cut its emissions by over 20%!
Just think – for all the talk that China won’t act to prevent climate change, China today is producing cars a third-more fuel efficient than ours and making massive new investments in wind power and mass transit.
The fundamental challenge is this: Are we going to step up and put in place the policies that will galvanize entrepreneurs, drive development of new clean technologies, re-energize our economy and tackle global climate change – all at the same time? What’s at stake is not whether the 21st century will be a green economy – it has to become one, and it will. The question is whether America will lead, and reap the jobs that come with being ahead of the curve.
To do that, we need to act now. And to persuade Washington to act, we need to continue to win these arguments, and win them publicly. We have to educate and mobilize the American people. And I can tell you from my own conversations with colleagues, we have to educate Senators too! In the Senate, I’ve held hearings on climate and security and invited ASP experts like including Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who is speaking at today’s conference—but also former Senator and Secretary of the Navy John Warner, who is doing a heroic job traveling the country and raising awareness on this issue. He’s doing more in retirement than some sitting Senators are!
I’ll tell you, if we had ten John Warners in the Senate, we’d already have a bill on the President’s desk. But unfortunately, not everyone in politics appreciates the urgency of this issue. After the last few months of health care demagoguery, we all know what’s coming when the Senate takes up climate change legislation. In this atmosphere of economic fear and political fear-mongering, one thing is certain: we won’t pass the strong legislation we need without a fight.
And make no mistake, the other side is gearing up. In the first half of 2009, the environmental community raised about $10 million to lobby for climate change legislation. This is impressive, but the oil and gas industry spent nearly $83 million lobbying against the bill. One DC lobbying firm actually forged letters—complete with the names and logos of a Hispanic nonprofit and (believe it or not) a local branch of the NAACP – urging House members to vote no on the House climate change bill!
In Washington, having truth on your side isn’t always enough to ensure that David beats Goliath. It’s up to us to get the message out. That’s why I’m pleased that the American Security Project is taking this on. I want to congratulate you on a hard-hitting set of ads, which I encourage all of you to watch at www.SecureAmericanFuture.org. You know, the 9/11 Commission report found that in the lead-up to the attacks, we suffered from a “failure of imagination.” We need to close the “imagination gap” on climate change and help people to envision a new kind of threat—and ads like yours are a helpful step in that direction.
As we weigh the options going forward and make our case to the American people, we also need to consider a simple comparison. What if Al Gore, John Kerry and thousands of scientists and security experts and leaders around the world are wrong? What’s the worst that would happen if we do the things we’re proposing? Well, if we respond adequately, change our energy habits, provide new technologies and solve the problem on a global basis, the worst that would happen is we are all healthier because of cleaner air; we will have transformed our economies and created millions of clean energy, high value added, sustainable jobs; we will have lived up to our environmental responsibility to create sustainable development policies, planted and saved forests and reduced disease and toxic poisoning that comes from antiquated industrial practices; we will have lived up to our humanitarian responsibilities to help developing countries avoid disease and dislocation; and we will have hugely enhanced our security by becoming less fossil fuel and foreign-oil dependent. That’s the worst that will happen if we’re wrong!
But what if the deniers and delayers are wrong? What are the consequences then? Plain and simple: sheer catastrophe. Folks, is there even a choice here? I believe there isn’t.
When you look past the trumped-up fears and partisan talking points, the science is clear, the economics is clear, the security argument is strong, and so are the actions we need to lead the world in taking. The more people understand the real implications of our choices—the upside of action, and the immense cost of doing nothing—the more I really believe they will embrace the argument we are making.
We all know about the August 2001 memo warning President Bush that terrorists were determined to strike inside the US. 36 days later, they did. Today, scientists are warning us that climate change is arriving faster than expected, and stronger than expected. Time is short. This is our memo. These are our warnings. The moment to act on them is now.
So let’s have the honest discussion the American people deserve. Let’s put America to work, marshalling the best of our markets and our minds to lead the world in solving this problem, and let’s act now—before it’s too late—to keep America safe. Thank you.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.