Leadership on climate change is needed at state and local levels.
TODAY, there is a growing consensus that climate change will impact every corner of the world. Drought, floods, wildfires, population migration, food and water shortages, and extreme weather events: All of these issues can force national security emergencies and international crises that will demand a military response.
In 2013, U.S. Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, identified climate change as the Pacific region’s biggest long-term security threat. He said “climate change is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”
In a seminal report last October, the U.S. Department of Defense declared that climate change is an immediate threat to national security, citing increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. The Department of Defense also predicted increasing demand for military responses to disasters as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.
Given underwhelming national action addressing the issue, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation strongly calls on our elected officials in Washington state to heed these concerns and to show leadership at the state and local levels on climate-change mitigation and adaptation steps.
The Jackson Foundation has sought to convene stakeholders locally and nationally to address the serious concerns facing our nation’s military leaders around the issue of climate change and national security. Working closely with the Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), the foundation is seeking to infuse military voices into the polarized climate debate and ensure that these respected, nonpartisan warnings about the threat of climate change to national security are heard above the fray.
CNA’s military advisory board chairman, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Ron Keys, says, “When it comes to Washington, D.C., and action on climate change, there seems to be little agreement on what to do.” He added: “They don’t seem to have the vision of what is needed for our long-term future.”
CNA is reaching out to the states to generate action and movement on this critical issue. Keys concluded: “I spend a great deal of my time talking to people at the state and local levels because in many cases they are at ground zero for some of the most dramatic changes we are likely to see and as a result they are leading the charge to fix it with affordable, livable and sustainable solutions that work.”
Our local governments are the first responders to emergencies and disasters, but increased extreme events will further strain our resources. The more gradual changes seen close to home, such as ocean acidification in Puget Sound, decreasing snow packs in our mountains and much longer fire seasons, are already impacting local governments. The Metropolitan King County Council has acted in this regard by passing a Strategic Climate Action Plan with a unanimous vote.
Washington state can galvanize a unified West Coast leadership push by putting a price on carbon, helping to drive national progress with the combined economic power of California, Oregon and Washington. We have what it takes to be a global powerhouse in climate solutions: technological skills, a history of clean energy leadership, Asian trade relationships and our identity as pioneers in sustainability.
Climate change requires coordinated action at all levels of government. At the state level, we urge lawmakers to jump-start a national conversation to move climate policy forward.