Op-ed by State Rep. Mark Cardenas
On Veterans Day four veterans who also hold elected office, and Brigadier General Stephen Cheney held a press conference to highlight the national security dangers of climate change. The elected officials are part of a group called the Elected Officials to Protect America. (EOPA). Brigadier Cheney is the President of the non-profit American Security Project.(ASA.) Their assessments of the situation locally, and internationally were eye opening. That’s why we’re sending the ZOOM press recording to you, in case you missed the event.
And a short overview video of climate change and fires creating instability:
Hotter, drier seasons driven by the burning of fossil fuels have caused counties around the world to erupt in flames this year. This climate change induced weather increases the frequency and intensity of fires, and in turn, the carbon dioxide released contributes to the warming of the planet. It’s a vicious cycle that will continue unless government’s act.
September was the hottest on record globally, federal government scientists say. The United Nations reported that the world suffered about 75 percent more extreme weather disasters during the last 20 years than during the previous 20 years, with economic losses increasing from $1.63 trillion to $2.97 trillion. And then there is the devastation that happens to communities, which displaces millions of people.
“Climate change is an accelerant of instability, and instability undermines U.S. national security interests,” said Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret.), a 30 year Marine veteran and President of American Security Project (ASP).
Disadvantaged people are more likely to live in disaster-prone areas. Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of weather-driven disasters, thereby increasing the risks to communities of color and low income. These are communities already hardest hit by systemic racism and environmental injustice. In October a study, published in Cardiovascular Research estimated that about 17 percent of deaths in North America could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
“We can begin to right the injustices of systemic racism by transitioning to a clean energy economy. We can lead the world, safeguard our nation from health, economic and security threats caused by the climate crisis and stimulate our economy,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, a former Maine state lawmaker, Marine combat veteran, and President of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA). “Elected Officials to Protect America call on President-elect Biden and Congress to enact a National Climate Emergency Plan. It is imperative that we take action.”
As of October, the U.S. has already been hit by $16 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters for this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency’s precipitation forecast predicts a dry winter for the entire southerly portion of the U.S., stretching from North Carolina to Southern California. In April, a paper published in the journal Science said the Southwestern part of North America may be entering a megadrought worse than anything seen in 1,200 years.
According to research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters atmospheric dust in the Great Plains region has doubled in the last 20 years, coinciding with worsening climate change and a five to ten percent expansion of farmlands. All this mirrors the prelude to the Dust Bowl that devastated the South West during the Depression. Dust storms could become a big threat, in the near future.
“We’re creating conditions that exacerbate climate change. We clearly need national policy that takes regional needs into account when combating the climate crisis. We need a National Climate Plan,” said Oregon State Representative Major Paul L. Evans USAF (Ret.), EOPA Co-Chair. “As the planet warms, our normally wet forests dry out earlier in the year. Oregon is still dealing with the aftermath from our horrific fires where 1.2 million acres burned and tragically lives were lost. Climate change causes death and destruction and disrupts economies. Any nation that suffers from extreme natural disasters has its national security threatened.”
Millions of acres burnt across the south west in California, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona. With dry winters there isn’t the snow melt that used to fill water tables; hence drought conditions persist which creates tinder boxes out of shrubs, grasses and forests.
“The drought in Colorado not only added fuel to the worst fire season on record, it’s reducing the flow of water in the Colorado River, affecting the lives of millions of Americans who live in communities downstream and across the border into Mexico,” said Steve Child, Pitkin County, Colorado County Commissioner, Army veteran Specialist 5. “We are already seeing climate refugees coming to Colorado to escape worse conditions elsewhere, even though the situation here is very grim too.”
California has seen more than 4.1 million acres burned — and more than 9,000 homes and other structures destroyed, and at least thirty-one people have died. New research shows “fire weather” days in California will rise 40 percent by 2065.
Across the west massive plumes of smoke caused air pollution to soar to unprecedented levels—rivaling that of the world’s most polluted cities. According to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, wildfire smoke is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses—making those who breathe it more susceptible to COVID-19. Worldwide an estimated 340,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory issues attributed to wildfire smoke occur each year.
Historically high concentrations of wildfire smoke from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 have been found responsible for at least 1,200 and possibly up to 3,000 deaths in California, according to an estimate by researchers at Stanford University.
“We need an energy policy that puts the health of the American people first, not the profits of fossil fuel companies. We have a moral obligation to the world to lead in the transition to clean, renewable energy,” said Tim Goodrich, Torrance Councilmember (CA), Air Force Veteran. “I served proudly and had three deployments. I don’t want to see our people sent overseas to war zones because conflicts worldwide are destined to increase with the climate crisis. We need to rid the world of fossil fuel dependency, so people will be able to live in peace.”
The lack of water is a key driver of conflicts, especially in the Middle East and North Africa and is predicted to worsen as long as fossil fuels continue to fuel global warming. The Center for Naval Analyses’ report explains how water insecurity empowers violent extremist organizations and places stable governments at risk. They found that 70 to 80 percent of conflicts in rural areas stem from water disputes.
“In the military we call climate change a threat multiplier because it is the spark that often leads to violent turbulence that has been smoldering under the surface. Our military and intelligence services take these issues seriously,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, a former Maine state lawmaker, Marine combat veteran and President of the Elected Officials to Protect America. “Our home is becoming uninhabitable for millions of people. When droughts worsen, farmers in the region are forced to find other ways to feed their families. Often their only choice is to join a terrorist organization. I’ve experienced this firsthand in Iraq when my HUMVEE was hit by a roadside bomb planted by a former farmer.”
The world is on fire —
There have been more fires alerts around the world in 2020 than last year, spelling dire consequences for health, biodiversity and the economy, according to a report by the World Wildlife Foundation and Boston Consulting Group.
The Arctic is experiencing warming at more than twice the pace of the rest of the world. Record-low snow cover, high temperatures and dry soils, due to human-caused climate change, contributed to the fires. This summer, portions of the Arctic shattered wildfire records set last year, which at the time was the worst fire season in 60 years. Usually an Arctic winter extinguishes seasonal wildfires. But with the climate warming some fires refuse to die. They are known as “zombie fires” because they smolder under the snowpack throughout the winter and come back to life during a new fire season.
This year, towns in the Arctic Circle experienced temperatures over 100 degrees. Record heat also thawed combustible peatland which fed wildfires that burned an area roughly the size of Belgium. A surge of planet-warming carbon dioxide about as much as Norway emits annually was released.
Extreme fires are becoming more common, and fire seasons are getting longer. Fires are also growing more unpredictable, leaving less time for preventive, prescribed burning to be done outside the fire season. The clearing and burning land for agriculture is a primary cause of fires in tropical regions from Borneo to Brazil. A dry winter spurred drought conditions and allowed these fires to get out of control. In the Amazon rainforest, tens of thousands of fires are still burning. Infernos in South America’s Pantanal region have burnt twice the area of California’s fires this year. Researchers fear its rare ecosystem will never recover.
“Natural resource exploitation, like deforestation, must be put in check. I was happy to hear President-elect Biden say he will rejoin the Paris Accord,” said Steve Child, Pitkin County, CO County Commissioner, Army veteran Specialist 5. “US armed forces protect and serve our nation. The world’s reliance on fossil fuels contributes to the destabilization of already volatile nations and other resource-stressed regions, making climate change a major national security threat. Our country must lead with a National Climate Plan.Part of such a plan should include dealing with the impacts to the residents and workers of the coal and oil and gas producing communities in our country who are being heavily impacted by the cutback in fossil fuel production.”
Human activity has reshaped the European landscape making it prime territory for wildfires In 2019, intense heat and drought helped spread fires across roughly 1,300 square miles on the Continent, a swath of scorched land 15 percent bigger than the decade’s annual average, according to preliminary data issued in mid-January by the European Forest Fire Information System.
Ukraine saw the worst wildfires in the history of the Chernobyl region, with fires increasing 30 percent across the country this year. The Mediterranean region and Africa suffered intense wildfires. Smoke blanketed south-central Africa in late August, stretching nearly 3,000 miles across the continent almost reaching South Africa. The intense heat of 2020 was accompanied by severe lack of rainfall across parts of Southeast Asia, causing drought conditions. Among the hardest-hit nations there have been Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
At the beginning of this year, Australia emerged from its worst wildfire season on record. Millions of acres burned, at least 33 people and millions of wildlife died, as an area nearly the size of England burned. The fires also cost the country’s tourism industry an estimated $2.9 billion.
“Despite these challenges, there is hope. A majority of Americans have made it clear that climate change is a concern and a priority. Now we need leadership from Washington,” said Oregon State Representative Major Paul L. Evans USAF (Ret.), EOPA Co-Char.
The mission of ASP: To communicate our vision for security in the 21st century by developing and sharing new ideas and critical analyses on the most important national security issues of our time; To forge a bipartisan consensus on a new national security strategy that will restore America’s leadership and ensure our security; To raise the American public’s understanding of critical national security issues through direct engagement and dialogue.
The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.
November 11, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, Elected Officials to Protect America Cell: 207.319.4511