This week, the Pentagon called climate change a threat to national security that "may spark or exacerbate future conflicts." The assessment was part of the Pentagon's official review of military risks, and labeled global warming "an accelerant of instability."
With this report, the Pentagon has put global warming on the geopolitical map. It has also given a briefing that even skeptical senators -- especially those on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees -- can't ignore.
Members of the Tea Party who support strong defense but deny the existence of climate change will also have a hard time ignoring this one.
Remember, these are not fleece-clad environmentalists telling you that global warming is a security threat. These are the men and women in military uniform, the ones whose lives are on the line when danger erupts.
It is their job to anticipate future risks and to protect our servicemen and women. We can't doubt their motives on this: they are trying to keep our country safe.
And in order to do that job, they have access to information that you and I don't. In addition to publicly available scientific evidence, they see confidential intelligence data. And in the new Quadrennial Defense Review, Pentagon officials wrote:
"Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments."
Personally, I find this report downright alarming. I am not a soldier. I am one of the lucky ones who has never had to pick up a gun to protect my country.
But I am an American who has experienced the terror that gets exported from fragile governments and unstable regions. I was on Capitol Hill on 9/11, and evacuating the building as fighter jets flew overhead was the most frightening thing I have ever done. My husband and I lived down the street from the Pentagon and for weeks, we could smell the smoke from the smoldering plane crash.
I would never compare these experiences to the dangers our servicemen and women face every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they certainly brought home the concept of "security risk." If climate change is now in this category and we have the power to stop it, how can we sit back and put more lives at risk?
For the risk is clearly growing. Security analysts have long recognized that terrorism spreads in nations crippled by poverty. Climate change is going to be a poverty multiplier -- like we didn't already have enough. It will cause devastating droughts in already overtaxed regions, crop failures in marginal lands, and mass migrations through unstable nations.
People can do stupid things when they are hungry, scared, and desperate. And while those unstable regions might seem far away now, 9/11 taught us how quickly they can be brought to our shores.
This is what our servicemen and women are fighting to prevent. We can help them by passing a clean energy and climate bill that will defuse the threat of global warming.
The veterans at Operation Free see the power of this bill to secure our nation. Operation Free was founded by young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They have seen firsthand the dangers of extremism, and they believe that stopping global warming and ending our dependence of foreign oil are powerful tools for combating it.
I hope senators will listen to these veterans and to the many military voices being raised in support of a clean energy and climate bill.
But senators also have other voices clamoring in their ears, including folks from the TeaParty who claim global warming doesn't even exist. They can deny climate change all they want, but it doesn't stop the droughts, migrations, and instability from mounting. What's their plan for securing our nation from these threats?
They don't have one, but the Pentagon does. And the Pentagon is an institution people listen to in DC. After all, no one can argue that the DOD is a liberal hotbed.
Still, politics is game of repetition: lawmakers listen to the messages they hear loudest and most often. That's why we need to remind our senators over and over again that passing a clean energy and climate law is a way to protect our nation from harm. Click here to make your voice heard.