10/30/2007 04:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Linking Environment and Security: Law of the Sea

Last week I had breakfast with a friend who works in the Senate as a national security staffer. In years past, we worked together in Congress and frequently schemed to get issues like climate change onto the national security agendas of staff and Members. Given Al Gore's Nobel Prize, the fact that the Pentagon had released a study linking the two issues, plus the discrediting of much of Bush foreign policy, I asked him about the recent turnaround in perceptions about the seriousness of climate change: was it having an impact on framing the urgency of the issue on Capitol Hill?

He said climate change has bumped up the environment a little bit...but that linking the two essentially remains a tough sell. It helps that the House now has a climate change panel, and that our overdue obsession with energy issues brings the environment in on the margin....but that it was hard to make headway given oversight logjams on issues like military privatization (which was basically ignored for a decade) plus the constant soundtrack on Iraq. And the learning curve is made even more steep by the lack of a clear vocabulary, including local anecdotes, linking the environment with national security.

Although the traction is improving, progressives need a long term plan that includes both policy options and a communications strategy that will link environment with security. Like many challenges that involve the common good and extended public deliberation, nothing can be taken for granted since the Right has filled the quiet spaces with an intentional misinformation campaign. We have a chance this week to reverse this situation:

The Law of the Sea Treaty will be considered in the Senate on Wednesday. If you care about broadening the definition of security to include global issues like climate, health, migration or water just to name a few-- then pay attention...

The importance of this treat yis both long term and strategic, and also politically tactical: First, if the U.S. signs this treaty, we begin to regain our lost legitimacy in the world and second we will move past a decade's worth of junk science foisted on the public -- information that obscured urgent messages about crises in our natural world.

The Law of the Sea Treaty has the most broad coalition of support that I personally have ever seen. For all the weenie-details go here

From the American Petroleum Institute to the Ocean Conservancy to the Navy -- each of these groups recognizes our own self-interest in signing this treaty and being present at the table where important policies are discussed. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up this issue on Wednesday, (tomorrow!). Three years ago, then Chairman Richard Lugar maneuvered it out of committee with unanimous approval but it never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. Last I heard, the undecided Members of the committee were: Issacson (Ga) Corker (TN) Coleman (MN) Sununu (NH) Voinovich (OH). Now, only one of these states is actually on the ocean, but every single one of them will benefit from the USA re-joining the rest of the world in a constructive way and taking up our traditional mantle of teamwork, prevention, respect for international law and problem solving cooperation.

There is a huge upside to America signing this treaty versus a negligible downside. At the end of the day, the Law of the Sea detractors are global anti-socials whose preferred method of interaction for nearly every international problem is physical intimidation.

And this chorus may be wrong, but they are loud. People who think the only legitimate use of taxpayer dollars are bigger and more sprockety weapons platforms (and whose manufacturer's corporate boards give huge amounts of those dollars to their favored scary candidates) for sure are not going to support international law. They likely don't even believe it exists. What is astonishing is that these same people who claim some kind of corner on national security haven't been listening to our own military. Besides supporting international treaties for the most part, just about every General who has testified on Iraq lately says that we can't solve today's problems with the same set of tools anymore. Yeah, I know, we're talking about linking environment and national security, but the basic theme rings true. We must start talking, thinking and framing these issues differently and our elected leaders need to build a new set of national security tools. The Law of the Sea Treaty will directly impact US national security -- our absence at the table in fact, already has.

A special note to Senators who are going to vote on Wednesday: Just keep in mind that the people arguing against this treaty are by and large the same gang who gave us "they will greet us with flowers" arguments in favor of invading Iraq. The only microphone these types should be allowed near is that hand-held karaoke set with sing along tapes that you can get at K-Mart.