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    The EPA, Obama & the military usher in a new climate politics

    Commentary: In the new political landscape, no candidate can be soft on climate and claim they’re strong on defense.
    An airforce pararescueman searches for survivors in the flooded streets of New Orleans.

    An airforce pararescueman searches for survivors in the flooded streets of New Orleans. Image: U.S. Air Force

    This summer will be a war of words on climate. Today, President Barack Obama will uphold his promise to bypass a corrupt and dysfunctional Congress and act on the clear and present danger of global warming.

    Finally, with an announcement seven years in the making, President Obama will exert the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants. In response, the coal industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have plans to make it a top election issue this fall. 

    President Obama should welcome the fight. 

    Not only are these coal plants the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases that cause devastating global warming, they also release millions of tons of poisonous materials like mercury and lead into America’s air. 

    A Harvard study released in 2006 found that, on average, poisonous emissions from coal plants kill roughly 36,000 Americans due to cancer, respiratory illness and other health problems each year.

    That’s more than twelve September 11th attacks a year.

    It’s also five times as many deaths as all of the fallen U.S. soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

    Since September 11th, U.S. coal-fired power plants have contributed to the deaths of roughly 432,000 Americans. That’s more than the 407,000 U.S. soldiers that died during all of World War 2.

    Combined with climate conditions that caused severe drought in 60 percent of the U.S. last year, global food shocks that destabilize entire regions, and accelerating weather patterns that kill thousands and cause hundreds of billions in damage every year  it’s clear that global warming and its causes are more than a national security concern.

    Global warming is now the biggest national security threat America faces. 

    Hurricane Irene evacuees wait out the 2011 storm that flooded Manhattan and crippled the east coast. Photo: National Guard

    The U.S. military and intelligence communities figured this out years ago, but because of ‘politics’ they’ve kept a low profile on their massive renewable energy and climate preparedness programs. From 2010 to 2012, the number of military energy efficiency projects more than doubled. In 2009, GOP members of Congress threatened to shut down a dedicated CIA center for monitoring climate risk because ‘we should be focused on terrorists in caves not polar bears on icebergs’. The CIA simply reassigned the staff and renamed its activities.

    But May 2014 will forever be remembered as the month that global warming became a mainstream national security issue.

    On May 14th, a seminal report published by 16 former three- and four-star generals and admirals declared that global warming is causing political and economic instability today and represents a national security threat going forward. The report was co-authored by George W Bush’s former head of the Department of Homeland Security and military officials from across the political spectrum. 

    This report, combined with a landmark National Climate Assessment, which highlighted weather and drought conditions affecting Americans today, spurred a desperate and despicable move by the U.S. House of Representatives. 

    In late May, the House voted to ban the entire U.S. military and intelligence communities from even thinking about global warming. In an attempt to write climate denial into the military budget, the House passed an amendment that prevents the Department of Defense from using any funding to address the national security ramifications of climate change. 

    Let's state that again: 231 members of Congress are trying to prevent the U.S. military from doing its job and protecting America. 

    That’s not politics. It’s a betrayal of the American people and the brave soldiers who defend them. 

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 4:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    "Today, President Barack Obama will uphold his promise to bypass a corrupt and dysfunctional Congress and act on the clear and present danger of ( Fill in the Blank)."

    So is it an equally "corrupt and dysfunctional" when the other party controls the Whitehouse and doesn't get everything it wants? Is this the kind of statement that means to inform and persuade? Or pronounce as fact and dictate? If you cannot convince another group to act in a manner that you want them to, they must be "corrupt and dysfunctional" right?


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    Right on the money, Cameron. Obama has never allowed the Constitution and the checks and balances it established to stop him. He's trampled that under foot scores of times with his presidential acts.

    And, the fawning media and gullible electorate just applaud. Much will be the same with Hillary, that was already established years ago.

    Constitution, ayhhhh who cares! The younger generations don't know and have no interest. Just give them their iphones and internet entertainment ... and socialized medicine.

    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

    Obama is not doing anything not done before him by Dubya. As to "national security," Obama, as commander in chief, has considerable powers, which pertain to the office, not the man.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    Interesting. Obama asks Congress to move, as usual they don't - so the agency, EPA goes the rule making route. This is exactly what happened regarding the regulation of green-house gases - at that was held up by the courts. I suspect the same political theater in this one.

    Lots of stomping of feet by the party-of-no-ideas, their big business clients telling them to take it court, they will, and they will lose. Again.

    Cue climate change deniers in 3, 2, 1....


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    Editor: This article is mis-categorized. Should be listed as "Dramatized Opinion."

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    What's corrupt is the author's piece of propaganda masquerading as journalism. The study linked and cited was of 6 cities and small particulate impacts (pm 2.5), and NOT focused solely on coal plants. Moreover, the actual used was more than 25 years old, and "estimated" for later years.

    That's not to say coal-fired power plans are benign by any stretch of the imagination. But to say "global warming is now the biggest national security threat America faces" is pure opinion, not fact, and not borne out by world realities. Hey Joe and other Crosscut editors, you can do far better. Not surprised the author is a McGinnite.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    The fevered pitch of this article about "The Greenhouse effect", I mean "Global Warming", I mean "Climate Change" nicely illustrates how the issue is being fueled not by science but politics. The most salient fact about climate change in 2014 is this: There has been NO net warming in 16 years. No. Net. Warming. How many of the vaunted computer models used by the UN's IPCC predicted this? Zero. So the Alarmists ratchet up the rhetoric much as they did during the "We're running out of oil!" meme of the 70's, when they accused anyone who thought differently as being on the political fringes or in the clutches of Big Oil (almost precisely what they say about those who don't mindlessly follow that same crowd on climate change today). But I hope the Democratic Party takes Mr. Horvath's advice. It would be nice to see the Republicans replace Harry Reid as Majority Leader of the United States Senate.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    Well said, John Carlson. Mr. Hovath appears to be a true believer in the religious doctrine of climate catastrophe. The only way he and his co-believers can save the world is to destroy the U.S. economy. Yes, the Earth's climate is changing… it always has. Warmer one epoch, cooler the next. But Gaia is a cruel mother. She doesn't care which species live or die. The best we can hope for is to give our children a happy life for the incredibly short span of time they will exist, and they to theirs. Should we develop new technologies that emit less carbon dioxide? Sure. But if China and India decide not to, our efforts will be for naught.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    Why I'd agree this is a poorly written article - Mr. Carlson provides they typical response - a vaguely veiled accusation with nothing to back it up. Now if one were to take say, the latest climate report and lay out an argument - based on some other data source or analysis - I'd be willing to listen. Otherwise it's arm-waving and on par with this more dramatic article.



    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    @Imacsob: To quote Peter Gleick, "To those claiming new climate regulations will destroy the economy, here's how past claims panned out."



    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    So is this John Carlson's Karl Rove moment? Just like Rove and Romney, Carlson appears to be more than willing to get his "facts and data" from the conservative echo-chamber which freezes out information and sources which are contrary to the party ideology.

    Carlson delivers the definitive statement of "The most salient fact about climate change in 2014 is this: There has been NO net warming in 16 years." with the same conviction as Rove declaring that "I don't know what the outcome is gonna be, but you shouldn't, you gotta be careful about calling things when you've got something like 991 votes separating the two candidates and a quarter of the vote left to count,..."

    Even the most basic of internet searches on the apparent "pause" in global warming is sufficient to disprove Carlson's emphatic declaration. As such, one might interpret Carlson's viewpoint as indicative of an underlying disdain of the scientific method or be interpreted as a tendency towards intellectual laziness where one does not conduct sufficient research to substantiate one's definitive proclamations.

    I anticipate that the pending El Nino event will be for Carlson what Megyn Kelly's walk to the backroom was for Karl Rove.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    For those a bit more interested in the science there is a decent article in the Economist that discusses the issue of the so-called "pause". To use this tiny slice of data as an attempt to discredit the science of climate change shows a distinct lack of understanding of the science concepts or a disingenuous review of the information.


    It's not that this information is difficult to find.


    Posted Mon, Jun 9, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    We're likely underestimating the China Effect, with sulfur dioxide over the shorter term masking the longer term impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The first falls out of the atmosphere quickly, if not replenished, while the second persists for decades, if not centuries. Once China starts scrubbing sulfur dioxide from coal power plant emissions and other pollution sources, as the U.S. has been doing for decades, the masking effect will rapidly go away.

    See: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/07/sulphur-emissions-slow-warming

    There is also the Staircase Effect - drawing a line from an El Nino peak year (1998) to an El Nina trough year (2010) will show a decline, but select any other year in the 1990s as the initial data point and it will show an incline.

    See: http://www.skepticalscience.com/going-down-the-up-escalator-part-1.html

    Nor can we assume that the oceans will simply continue to absorb excess carbon dioxide, considering that CO2 levels and temperature levels have mirrored each other over the longer run.

    See: http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/how-much-co2-can-the-oceans-take-up/

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for the comments everyone. A few thoughts:

    This article is definitely commentary. That's why it's labeled 'Commentary' at the very top.

    Despite any opinions you have around global warming, the US military is the in business of risk mitigation and facts. I encourage any deniers on this thread to actually read the reports coming of the US military and intelligence community. If you have compelling evidence that shows there's no real risk to the US public which can overwhelm the mountains of data and analysis the Department of Defense has compiled over the last 20 years, I'd love to hear it.

    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    The fact that climate change skeptics stand at odds with our institutions whose mission is national defense is quite interesting. Especially since those folks are often the ones most supportive of the Pentagon's budget and actions (the GOP, specifically). This contradiction hadn't quite hit me yet.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Like all the rest of us, the U.S. military and intelligence community has no crystal ball and fortunately we have (had?) a constitution to temper assumptions that they do. Do I need to cite the times in history when the constitution has been put to good use and times when it could have been put to better use?

    Thanks for the commentary, it most certainly has generated some thought.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm not a denier--au contraire. However, I do wonder about: "the Leaders Network, an academy for economic growth and social innovation." Does this mean you accept the current economic model that continuous growth in the absolute and per capita quantity of products for consumption is essential to our well-being?

    The CNA report repeatedly references the problems inherent in population growth along with the need and desire of that growing population to attain at least a reasonably secure standard of living; "As population grows, pressures mount." (p. 16) However, neither the CNA report nor your op-ed directly address strong evidence of decreasing availability of cheap energy and other resources needed to sustain a "growing population" let alone bring all 8 or 9 billion expected people up to a decent quality of life.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    Unfortunately you might want to lower your expectations that an argument be support by some facts.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    "This is no longer a political fight. This is a fight to defend the homeland.

    "Make sure you’re on the right side."

    Thank you, Comrade Stalin. But I'm not lifting a finger to save any ersatz "homeland." Too much evil has been done by our government under that Orwellian moniker. Personally, I'm ready to kill the homeland and get the constitutional republic back. Then we can talk about climate change like free men and women.


    Posted Mon, Jun 2, 10:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    Shouldn't this crap be on the 700 Club with the rest of the fundamentalists crazies? Climate change has moved past the "let's stop it stage" and on to the time to think about how to deal with the impacts stage. All of which, the loonies ignore because they truly believe they can control the Earth and it's processes and, drum roll please, reverse them. Typical arrogance of religious zealots.


    Posted Tue, Jun 3, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    Ergo - we just keep pumping out CO2 because (throw hands in the air for dramatic effect) there is nothing we can do!

    Talk about zealots of a different sort.


    Posted Tue, Jun 3, 10 p.m. Inappropriate

    You don't read well do you? Where did I say to continue BAU? Get back to me when you learn basic reading skills.


    Posted Wed, Jun 4, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    No - I think it's a brilliant idea to keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere because we're "past the let's stop it stage" -- while we "deal with the impact stage".

    So while where raising infrastructure above the rising tide - case-in-point Norfolk VA - there's no reason to do anything about limiting carbon inputs because where "past the let's stop it stage".

    If you don't mean what you write - then try to be a bit more precise with the use of the language champ.


    Posted Wed, Jun 4, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

    I agree that we should be looking at our infrastructure as predicable effects are coming our way. But we should not be ignoring the input stage either. What's the sense of spending money on one end without making some change on the source - agree that would be stupid.


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