The Generals Know Best

12/15/2011 03:33 pm ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

Some of our politicians consider global warming a hoax. Our military leaders consider global warming a threat to national security.

The Pentagon's civilian Defense Science Board (DSB) recently issued a report urging the military to treat global warming as a national security matter and plan accordingly. Our generals didn't need convincing. The DSB's recommendations affirmed what our military has been doing for some time, namely preparing to counter accelerated climate change's potentially destabilizing impacts that have already materialized.

Of particular concern to the Pentagon is Africa. The DSB notes that the stability of Africa is vital to our national interest because of the vital fuel and strategic mineral resources we derive from the continent. It is also a place where we are battling terrorism. Yet as DSB notes, "The combination of existing climate change and the vulnerability of African nations to such change warrants special attention."

And just what would that vulnerability be? Widespread subsistence farming, fragile governance, threadbare economies, and shaky ethnic détente could all collapse under stress from unprecedented drought and other painful climatic extremes that have already been experienced and linked to global warming..

What forms would our "special attention" take? Helping African nations better manage their stressed water supplies and agricultural output would be at the top of the list. On a broader scale, the Pentagon wants to beef up our government's information-gathering apparatus on climate change so as to better anticipate threats here or abroad.

DSB members sought to avoid partisan political bickering by not speculating on the cause of global warming. Instead, their report's emphasis was on developing adaptive responses to the adverse climate effects already in play. Among those effects are record droughts, unprecedented flooding, rising sea levels, increased acidification of the ocean, and hurricanes of greater intensity.

The DSB also tried to steer clear of political controversy by emphasizing adaption to climate change's effects rather than seeking to mitigate them, which would raise the issue of human causality.

But all the temporizing may be for naught. A controlling faction of the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is unconvinced about the existence of, much less a human contribution to, a global warming threat. They have sought to drastically cut back government climate change research and data collection as a cost-saving move. Moreover, these same Republicans have cited our budget deficit as reason to be extremely leery about expanding foreign aid.

So here is the question to pose to our presidential candidates who all yearn to be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces in 2012: Would they authorize the military to continue allocating resources to address global warming as a national security threat, or order the program shelved as a waste of taxpayers' money?