An unpublished testimony by Defense Secretary James Mattis before a Senate panel cites climate change as a major threat to national security — despite the numerous attempts of the Trump administration to minimize the threat.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called climate change a “national security threat” — ironically putting him at odds with the rest of the Trump administration. Image credits: Pentagon / Flickr.

It appears that the military’s position is at odds with that of President Trump and his close followers. Mattis, for instance, has long highlighted the fact that global warming is a major security threat now, not in the distant future. He explained that issues such as open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots pose major military threats and must be considered as such.

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis said in written answers to questions posed after the public hearing by Democratic members of the committee. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

He’s also advocated the reduction of the military’s dependence on fossil fuels and where possible, explore renewable energy as a solution to this challenge. Back in 2010, as commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, he signed off on the Joint Operating Environment, which lists climate change as a major security threat to be dealt with in the next 25 years (just 19 now). In 2015, the Pentagon released a report in which it clearly listed climate change as a security risk which will exacerbate current world problems like “poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.”

But the statement Mattis gave to the Senate paints a very interesting and yet disturbing picture.

There seems to be major disagreement within the Trump administration, and this is a clear example of it. Who would have guessed that in 2017, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency would blatantly state that CO2 does not drive climate change and that the Defense Secretary would support the severity of dealing with it? In fact, he went even further than this, saying that the whole government should work together to tackle climate change. It’s extremely encouraging to me that such a respected man as James Mattis showed the strength of character to disagree with the administration which gave him his current function, and that he asks for a “whole-of-government response.” Here’s a short excerpt from the hearing, featuring a discussion between Mattis and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire:

Shaheen: “I understand that while you were commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command you signed off on a document called the Joint Operating Environment, which listed climate change as one of the security threats the military will face in the next quarter-century. Do you believe climate change is a security threat?”
Mattis: “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”
Shaheen: “General Mattis, how should the military prepare to address this threat?”
Mattis: “As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

(The excerpt was provided by ProPublica and Senate staff has confirmed its authenticity)

Climate change is affecting us whether we understand it or not. Sign rendered pointless by the 2007/2008 Australian drought. Rawnsley park station, South Australia

Of course, this is in no way an indication that the Trump administration will back down on its commitment to destroy Obama’s environmental legacy and support the fossil fuel industry. But it is indicative that there is, at the very least, a divergence of opinions. It remains to be seen how this difference will be solved. For now, the White House has proposed slicing and dicing the budget for environmental projects, calling them “a waste of money.”

“Regarding the question of climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward on that: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

With the budget proposal, Mulvaney has clearly expressed the fact that the US is no longer interested in its leadership on climate change. Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017 says that this is a “scorched-earth” budget, representing an all-out assault on clean air, water, and land. So why then, is there such a huge gap between what the White House is saying and what the Secretary of Defense is saying?

It is also important to note that this is more than just a US policy problem. Whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not, climate change affects all of us. The US has recently shown signs of wanting to backtrack on its climate leadership and move towards the bottom of the pack. If that happens, it will be a price everyone will have to pay.

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