The Economic And Military Rationale For Tackling Climate Change

07/13/2017 12:12 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2017
An image of an American tank on display.
Photo by John A. Tures
An image of an American tank on display.

As the United States government stood alone at the G20 meeting, the only opponent of the Paris Accord and the global effort to stop problems associated with climate change, defenders of the withdrawal announced that America was doing so for economic reasons. In the spirit of EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s “Red Team Blue Team” assessment, let’s see if this is a good idea.

It’s interesting that Pruitt thought to employ a military tactic to assess the costs and benefits of tackling climate change. He should look at what our U.S. military is actually doing. Our military has analyzed the effects of environmental problems and how they lead to conflict that could drag our forces into a quagmire. We’ve seen how the Syrian droughts provided the underlying causes for a power struggle, triggered by the Arab Spring, which helped give birth to ISIS, a threat to the U.S.

Our military officers are also concerned with the conservation of our national resources, and are taking steps to address the danger of fuel shortages. We had, and still have, amazing vehicles on land and sea that guzzle down fuel. Shortages certainly impact our global reach. The Nazi Army, with its fine weaponry, was nearly ground to halt after we bombed their oil fields in Romania. Failure to take the Middle East compounded their problems. The first goal of the Battle of the Bulge was to take our fuel supplies, without which, their offensive would fail miserably. We can learn some lessons from the greatest military in the world: the U.S. military.

Yes there are economic costs to addressing climate change, which are targeted against a few inefficient industries. Even if our government keeps trying to prop up aging coal plants by nixing the Paris Agreement, these companies can already see the writing on the wall. Many are switching over to natural gas, seeing there’s no future in maintaining the economically backward model that politicians are racing to protect. As for jobs, has coal made the average West Virginian or East Kentuckian wealthy, or has it trapped them in the same cycle of poverty that John F. Kennedy witnessed during his 1960 campaign?

The switch to cleaner technology might not only serve as a better economic model for these states, but consider how locals are trying to switch to solar power and panels, allowing the region to once again return to its natural beauty and place as a great tourist attraction. They don’t call the place “Almost Heaven” for their coal mines and blasted mountaintops that make a handful wealthy at the expense of the miners who live near the poverty line.

There will also be costs of leaving the Paris deal and protecting the few polluters. Those costs will be passed on to you. I recommend you read the latest data from Science Magazine by Solomon Hsiang, Robert Kopp, and a variety of co-authors. Even if you’re a science skeptic, it’s worth seeing how much this will cost you. The consequences to our agricultural industry are of particular concern. As I drive through rural Georgia, those bumper stickers reading “No Farms, No Food” are accurate.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with another World War II story. I just finished reading Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation. It’s important to note that while the courage and sacrifice of World War II soldiers is incredible, we should remember what those men, women and kids did at home during this unprecedented two-front victory. They conserved resources, and recycled just about everything. We can either ignore the lessons from the oldest Americans, or learn from them to overcome our greatest challenges today.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2. 

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