House Republicans are seeking to cut funds from the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) budgets that are directed at researching the national security implications of climate change.
In a sweeping budget proposal rolled out on Tuesday, which presents the yin to the Obama administration’s yang when it comes to spending priorities, lawmakers identified national security-related climate change research as a key area to eliminate “wasteful” spending.
“The Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, two of the most important agencies in our national security apparatus, currently spend part of their budget studying climate change,” a House Budget Committee document states.
For years, including under the George W. Bush administration, the Defense Department and intelligence community have assessed the potential for climate change to act as a threat multiplier, particularly in areas that have preexisting sources of tension.
The Republican proposal, put forward by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia, comes soon after a study found that global warming likely amplified a drought in Syria that preceded the devastating civil war in that country. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that climate change was likely one of the many factors that contributed to the deadly conflict, which has displaced millions and killed at least 200,000.
The Syrian civil war has helped give rise to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, which the U.S. and its allies are now fighting with almost daily airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
The study also found that much of the eastern Mediterranean, including Syria, parts of Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan — no bastions of stability today — may face an even more tenuous security situation in the coming decades as global warming increases temperatures and reduces rainfall throughout much of the region.
According to the recent study and others, global warming — along with unsustainable water use — is causing the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding first began 12,000 years ago, to lose its fertility. This could make other countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Iran less stable in the coming decades if governments do not take action to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.
The Pentagon produced a climate change “road map” in 2014 that laid out the case for viewing global warming impacts as a threat multiplier and, in some cases, as an immediate threat.
The Pentagon is concerned, for example, that sea level rise could flood its largest naval bases, such as the massive installations in Norfolk, Virginia, and make it more challenging to operate in already hot and dry places that could become more expensive to operate in, like the American Southwest.
“In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today — from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts,” said then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel when the report was released in October.
“A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has stated on multiple occasions that climate change is among the top national security issues facing the U.S., a claim that has been met with ridicule from some Republicans.
The intelligence community has also repeatedly warned of the risks that global warming poses, particularly in states that have fragile governments and rapid population growth.
As early as 2008, the National Intelligence Council was warning about this.
Climate change and climate change policies could affect… domestic stability in a number of key states, the opening of new sea lanes and access to raw materials, and the global economy more broadly — with significant geopolitical consequences.
Such warnings have only grown more urgent since.
In addition to studying climate change, the Pentagon is a leader in energy efficiency and deployment of solar energy panels, which may also come under fire from Republican lawmakers, many of whom deny the fact that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases are causing global warming.
Meanwhile, climate spending in other areas of the government is being viewed skeptically in the Senate, where, for example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) criticized NASA administrator Charles Bolden for his agency’s Earth science programs. Cruz is in favor of moving NASA to focus more closely on deep space exploration, even though Earth science has long been a cornerstone of that agency’s mission.
Like the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal, the House Republicans’ plan is essentially dead on arrival, since after passing the House it would need to garner Senate support and avoid a Presidential veto, despite containing a “complete repeal” of Obamacare.
Instead, it can be looked at as a way for politicians to lay out their priorities. Other areas the Republican Budget Committee proposal would target for cuts include anti-poverty programs, food aid and housing assistance.
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