If you’re concerned about national security, then you’d better be concerned about climate change.

That’s clear from letters that a bipartisan group of 18 senior retired military officers and national security officials sent May 8 to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The letters urged them to lead in addressing the security implications of climate change.

The retired officers wrote: “We know that climate change poses strategically significant risks to US national security, directly impacting our critical infrastructure and increasing the likelihood of humanitarian disasters, state failure, and conflict. The Department of Defense and the intelligence community have been aware of this “threat multiplier...”

The letters urged Mattis and Tillerson to “get ahead of this challenge before it becomes unmanageable. We hope that you consider such a partnership as an important step in preparing the United States for this new geostrategic reality.”

Mattis doesn’t need much of a sales job. He has been aware of the threats posed by climate change for a number of years and recently stated, “...Climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response.”

According to a report from ProPublica, noted by The Washington Examiner, Mattis told Democratic senators that climate change is real and "can be a driver of instability."

He elaborated in answers to questions from senators following his confirmation hearing:

“If confirmed,” Mattis told the committee, “I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects…. I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness." 

Retired Brigadier General Gerald Galloway is on the advisory board of the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), which sent the letters to Mattis and Tillerson, and he spelled out the challenges during a National Public Radio interview March 19: “If you can't get your aircraft off an airfield because it's under water, if you can't land troops in a foreign country because the beach you thought was going to be something you could land on is no longer there, then it's a national security issue. If our allies are having problems in their own country as a result of such things as drought - where there's instability in the country - instability breeds conflict. And conflict is what puts our forces at risk, and we don't want that to happen. So we've got to be prepared for this, and we've got to be prepared to assist at home and abroad.”

“While the United States has made progress, the rest of the world generally takes this far more seriously than we do,” said Christine Todd Whitman, the chairwoman of American Security Project, a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank that focuses on national security issues. “They see it in a more direct way. In places like Sudan, prolonged droughts in rural areas are shifting the population into cities and worsening unemployment and crowding. We need to realize that climate change is more than a climate issue. Our military leaders, including all of our joint chiefs of staff, have said that this is a national security issue. The economic and social destabilization from climate change in many parts of the developing world breeds discontent and is creating fertile grounds for organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda.”

In a May 22 paper, CCS applauded NATO’s attention to climate change while offering recommendations for how the alliance can more thoroughly address climate-related risks to the NATO mission. The report, titled The Alliance in a Changing Climate: Bolstering the NATO Mission Through Climate Preparedness said:

“Climate change will adversely affect the future security environment and intersect with core NATO activities. It has the potential to change the context in which NATO operates dramatically, and will create risks that increase in both likelihood and severity. There is more certainty about this threat than others in NATO’s future. With so much potential for disruption, climate change should be treated as a strategic concern for the Alliance – a multiplier of existing risks to NATO, including on its eastern and southern borders.”

...All three of NATO’s essential core tasks as defined in the 2010 Strategic Concept – collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security – would be supported by the Alliance fully incorporating climate risk into NATO institutions.” 

Like Mattis, Tillerson acknowledges that the climate is changing. He supports a carbon fee, which is earning more and more support. Many backers prefer it to other options because it relies on the free market to solve the problem. And those who usually lean toward the regulatory approach realize that under President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that is no longer an option. Since a carbon fee has the potential to generate a massive revenue stream, it can serve as the pay-for needed to cut taxes without running up the national debt. Thus, it addresses two major national problems.

Statement from Co-Founders on Paris Agreement Withdrawal

The president’s ill-conceived decision strengthens the resolve of the Partnership for Responsible Growth and others committed to adoption of a carbon fee. We will continue to make our case on Capitol Hill and within the business community. As Americans deal with rising coastal waters, droughts, superstorms, forest fires, insect-borne viruses, and other climate-related threats and as they see other economies around the world adapting, they will want their elected leaders to move forward rather than fall behind.


“When the general public visualizes global warming, they may picture a stranded polar bear in a distant, remote area instead of an asthmatic child struggling to breathe in their own neighborhood,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School. “The latter image could motivate more people to focus on climate change today and not sometime in the future.

How extensive is the problem? “This issue basically affects the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the places in which we live. It’s an all-encompassing public health challenge,” said Koh, who is also former assistant secretary for health with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Globally, about 12.6 million people die each year due to environmental risk factors such as pollution, extreme weather or climate-related disease, according to the World Health Organization. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is projected to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year from heat stress, malnutrition and the spread of infectious diseases like malaria, WHO estimates.

Injuries from severe weather events are one of the most obvious signs of global warming, according to Dr. Barry Levy, adjunct professor of public health at Tufts University School of Medicine. “Not every severe weather event is due to climate change,” but warmer water in the North Atlantic probably contributed to the severity of Superstorm Sandy, said Levy, who is also co-editor of the 2015 book Climate Change and Public Health.

Levy noted, too, that warmer and longer heat waves are leading to more cases of heat-related deaths and heat-related complications in cardiovascular, pulmonary, and other disorders. A three-week European heat wave in 2003 killed 40,000 people, he said. “Some of that is thought to be due to climate change.”

“Heat waves, which are extreme heat events that last several days, are the No. 1 cause of US weather-related fatalities on average over the last 30 years, more than tornadoes, more than floods, more than lightning,” said Kim Knowlton, assistant clinical professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She spoke at a February 2017 climate and health meeting in Atlanta, hosted by the American Public Health Association, former Vice President Al Gore, and more than 50 organizations representing scientists, policymakers and activists.

Disease is another significant problem. A team of American and Venezuelan scientists took a close statistical look at the relationship between climate and the Zika outbreak and concluded that climate change and long-term weather cycles, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, played important roles in pushing temperatures up to those favored by Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

Cholera is a more serious problem when water is warmer. “I would put cholera highest on my list to worry about with respect to climate change,” said Dr. David M. Morens, senior advisor to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “Cholera likes warm weather, so the warmer the Earth gets and the warmer the water gets, the more it’s going to like it. Climate change will likely make cholera much worse.” Cholera already kills more than 100,000 people globally every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Mona Sarfaty directs the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, a coalition of 12 medical societies representing more than half the physicians in the U.S.  The Consortium released a report in March 2017 called “Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health” that mapped how climate change threatens the health of people across the United States and how those threats vary by region. Extreme temperatures and weather events, poor outdoor air quality, contaminated food and water, mosquito- and tick-borne infections, wildfires and stresses on mental health are the climate-related health risks identified in the report, which was based on information from the Global Climate Change Research Group’s report “Health 2016: The Impact of Climate Change in the U.S.”

"There's a gap between the public's understanding of the health implications of climate change and physicians' understanding of the health implications of climate change," Sarfaty said. "Most people are not aware that climate change is a danger to their health, and physicians see that risk." The program office of the Consortium is at the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Some 200,000 Americans died prematurely last year because of air pollution. World-wide, the total was a sobering 4.2 million. A new study tied low birth weight, which typically reflects premature birth, in four New Jersey counties to emissions from a nearby coal-fired plant.

And here’s one more way that greenhouse gases are making it harder to breathe: dust storms related to drought.  Fifty years ago in Beijing and northern China dust storms used to occur once every seven or eight years.  Now they are essentially an annual event, The New York Times reported recently. The main cause is expansion of the nation’s deserts by 1,300 square miles a year, with the wind carrying sand and soil to urban areas. Beijing’s air quality index hit 623 one day in early May. The United States considers a rating above 100 “unhealthy.”  Children and the elderly were urged to stay inside.

As if all these health problems weren’t troubling enough, they take an enormous economic toll. We’ll leave an examination of that damage to a future blog post.

If you think our country should take action to reduce climate change’s threat to health, we have a suggestion: Urge your senators and House member to support a carbon fee. Such a fee is the quickest, most efficient way to tackle climate change.

Signs of GOP interest in solutions

Republicans have been slower than Democrats to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is real and that humans are causing most of it. And the other day President Trump motored over to EPA for a high-profile signing of an executive order aimed at undoing central portions of President Obama’s climate change agenda. Standing beside him was his number-one partner in climate change crime: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Yet there are signs of hope from the Grand Old Party. As Time magazine’s Justin Worland put it: “A small but growing number of Republicans have begun standing up for science.”

First was the February proposal by Republican heavyweights James Baker, George Shultz, Henry Paulson, Martin Feldstein, Thomas Stephenson, Greg Mankiw, and Rob Walton, under the banner of the Climate Leadership Council. Calling it a "Republican climate jailbreak strategy," they urged Congress to adopt a $40/metric ton carbon tax, with all the proceeds going back to taxpayers as “dividend checks.” Their initiative gave the drive to price carbon a distinctly Republican flavor.

Second was a strong pitch for climate action from the party’s 2012 standard-bearer. Governor Mitt Romney said it's essential that America lead the world's effort to address climate change and limit carbon emissions. "I happen to believe that there is climate change, and I think humans contribute to it in a substantial way, and therefore I look with openness to all the ideas that might be able to address that," he said… "The idea of doing nothing, in my view, is a recipe for disaster.

Third was the formation of a bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which as of today includes 15 Republicans and 15 Democrats. It was founded by Congressmen Carlos Curbelo (R) and Ted Deutch (D), whose trips home to South Florida provide regular and convincing evidence that the climate is changing and is threatening property and local economies. One Republican who joined the caucus recently is Darrell Issa, who has built a reputation as a hard-driving Republican. "Coastal communities, like mine in Southern California, are counting on us to come up with solutions that encourage a strong and vibrant economy, while also ensuring we are taking care of our environment,” he said. “Our country has some of the most innovative minds from anywhere in the world. I'm confident that by working together, we can tackle these challenges and come up with a better path forward. I'm pleased to join the Climate Solutions Caucus as a bipartisan opportunity for collaboration and also for its focus on economically viable solutions.”

Fourth was the March 15 introduction of a resolution by 17 House Republicans that acknowledges humans' impact on the climate and commits to studying and addressing “the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.”

Fifth was a February 13 letter to the president from a bipartisan group of governors touting the benefits of renewable energy. According to David Roberts’ story in Vox, the letter pointed to the $222 million a year that wind farms pay to rural landowners and the $100 million a year renewable energy businesses invest in low-income areas. It asked Trump to help modernize the grid, support offshore wind development, extend renewable energy tax credits, and increase renewable energy research.

The letter came from the Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition, whose vice-chair is Kansas’ Sam Brownback, a longtime member of the GOP’s right flank. Here are some numbers that explain the governor’s enthusiasm for energy sources that, in the past, only Democrats could love: Wind power provides 30 percent of Kansas’ electricity. It has drawn $7 billion in capital investment to the state and supports, directly or indirectly, between 5,000 and 6,000 jobs there. Kansas landowners receive $10 to 15 million in lease payments every year from the industry. There are five wind manufacturing facilities in the state.

As Roberts put it in Vox: “Leadership on renewable energy gives them the chance to be heroes in the climate story.”

Sixth is polling showing that more and more Republican voters--even Trump voters--are rejecting the notion that climate change concern is just a big hoax; they want our government to take action. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change, half of Trump voters think global warming is happening, while only 30 percent think it is not.  Sixty-two percent support taxing and/or regulating the pollution that causes global warming, with 31 percent supporting both approaches. Half of Trump’s voters support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and using the money to reduce other taxes by an equal amount, and 48 percent support setting strict carbon dioxide emissions limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase.

There are those who say that GOP members of Congress aren’t all that interested in what their constituents think; what matters more to them is what they hear from four long-time sources of campaign funds: the coal industry, portions of the oil and gas industry, the Koch Brothers, and Grover Norquist’s anti-tax coalition. On February 8, for example, Norquist tweeted: “Now that the GOP can repeal all the anti-energy, anti-job regs--the Left offers to trade those regs for a carbon tax. Nice try. No.” There are signs, though, that this quartet’s power may be waning. Meantime, ExxonMobil’s former CEO, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and his successor, Darren Woods, have urged adoption of a carbon tax.

Perhaps, in the wake of the health care train wreck on Capitol Hill, this is a moment for Republicans to snatch a victory--in fact, a double-victory. They want to cut taxes and see that as a way to bounce back from the health care loss. But they need a way to pay for those tax cuts. If they punt on a “pay-for,” they expose themselves to charges of hypocrisy on the need to control the national debt.

But the two pay-fors in the House Blueprint on tax reform are quickly sinking to the bottom of the Potomac. If, instead, the GOP opts for a $40/metric ton carbon fee, with gradual annual increases, there will be a $2 trillion flow of money to compensate for the tax cuts. This creative compromise offers Republicans a tax reform triumph and a free-market solution that would enable them to show Democrats that it is the GOP that found a way to beat back climate change.