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

An airforce pararescueman searches for survivors in the flooded streets of New Orleans. Credit: 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. 

We need to stop calling global warming a political issue. There’s nothing in conservative economic theory or political ideology that’s fundamentally at odds with addressing global warming. In fact, some of the savviest mitigation strategies come from conservative think tanks and political leaders. It’s not a conservative versus progressive issue, it’s not Democrat versus Republican, it’s not rich versus poor.

Global warming denial is about America’s national security interests versus a small, multinational interest group corrupting the democratic process.

Just seven years ago, global warming wasn’t politically controversial. In 2007, every serious presidential contender had an ambitious climate change policy — including Mitt Romney, John McCain and potential candidate Newt Gingrich. Faced with an emerging political consensus on climate and President Obama's 2008 victory, Koch Industries and the oil and coal companies got desperate.

As the lynchpin of their strategy, the group spent hundreds of millions in primaries defeating any moderate Republican candidates who might support climate legislation. Campaign spending laws decimated by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling cleared the way for their political attack.

That meant that within four years, a small, desperate, but well financed group had transformed support for addressing global warming from a relatively mainstream Republican position into complete heresy. 

Many of those 231 members of Congress who voted to ban the U.S. military from preparing for climate change fully understand that global warming is happening and represents a threat  —  but they’re more scared of the multinational fossil-fuel donors that might fund their challenger in the next primary. 

So let’s be clear when we talk about ‘climate politics’ . There’s no broad base of opposition to smart climate policies. There’s no ideological divide. There is, however, a small group of economic warlords trying to force the American government to act counter to its own interests.

If politicians choose to side with these economic warlords over their own military and citizens, that’s their choice. But they will pay for it at the polls.

These elected officials who vote against the national security interests of their own people and actively fight the military in trying to protect the homeland can no longer call themselves patriots. Instead, they will be called hypocrites every time they wear a yellow ‘Support Our Troops’ ribbon. They will be called cowards when they speak at military bases in a cheap attempt to score votes. They will be called un-American when they beat the drum for un-winnable wars in the Middle East while ignoring the real threats to America.

The same kind of public pressure campaign that silenced and disgraced opponents of the Iraq War in 2003 will be brought to bear on elected officials who claim to be ‘pro-military’, ‘strong on defense’ or ‘tough on terror,’ but ignore the warnings of the U.S. military and scientists. 

As of this month, there is no such thing as ‘strong on defense’ and ‘weak on climate.’ 

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

Make sure you’re on the right side.

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