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Climate Change and U.S. National Security

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Monique M. Maldonado
May 15, 2015

Due to the overwhelming global issues that dominate concerns of the environment, climate change is an underestimated problem. It is supposed to be one of the nation’s top priorities, according to the latest U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS), but the “climate issue” continues to be alienated and put aside. As stated in NSS fact sheets and cited from the White House Office of the Press Secretary, the nation will “confront the urgent crisis of climate change, including national emissions reductions, international diplomacy, and our commitment to the Green Climate Fund.”

But when will it happen?

With international threats like ISIS and global economic, political and social instability, climate change stands to be a crippling threat to national security if it continues to take the back seat in domestic priorities. Scientists have predicted that climate change and global warming will be the greatest phenomena of the 21st century and both occurrences could provoke critical outcomes that detrimentally affect the environment. According to Kim Hjelmgaard of USA Today, both weather and temperature concerns have topped the list in the 2015 World Economic Forum. Hjelmgaard stated,

“Taking a 10-year outlook, the report [World Forum Economic Report] assessed 31 risks that are global in nature and the potential is imminent, which could cause significant negative impact across countries and industries if they take place.”

Climate Change

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defined climate change as the “significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time…climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns, among other effects that occur over several decades or longer.” One of the most well-known matters of climate change is the Greenhouse Effect. The Greenhouse Effect is the concept of radiation entering and exiting the Earth’s atmosphere. Through this process, the Earth is heated through natural gasses and/or radiation; some parts are confined within the atmosphere and the rest is redirected back to the solar system.

Essentially, the thin layer of natural gasses that surround the Earth is the protection between excessive radiation and moderate temperatures. The Greenhouse Effect should be a natural way for the environment to sustain normal temperatures. But human life and other living organisms have altered the process over the years. According to Marc Lallanilla of Live Science, “97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans have changed the Earth’s atmosphere in dramatic ways over the past two centuries, resulting in global warming.”

In addition to “green” matters, there are climate concerns that are beyond the control of humans. For instance, another greenhouse gas, namely carbon dioxide, is also responsible for rising temperatures within the ecosystem. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased  over the past century. This has raised concerns.

Maldonado may

Dr. James Hansen from The Science stated, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to which civilization has developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleo-climate evidence and ongoing climate changes suggest carbon dioxide will need to be reduced.”

Over the past 200 years, concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere has increased to 80 parts per million [ppm] and is said to be the cause of change in specific weather patterns.

What is Climate Changes in Correlation to U.S. National Security?

Climate change conditions heavily influence weather patterns (global warming). Continued climate changes increase the chances of natural disasters and potentially affect a large number of resources, destroying infrastructures and causing economic instability. Such volatility amplifies threats, which could endanger American resources. According to the 2015 National Security Strategy:

“The present day effects of climate change increases sea levels and storm surges threaten coastal regions, infrastructure and property…in turn, the global economy suffers, compounding the growing costs of preparing and restoring infrastructures.”

National security is linked to climate change since the issue is a domestic, international and global political endeavor. The United States has worked with over 100 countries in the past decade to lessen emissions and preserve human life and resources. The most important part of climate change is securing a way to reduce the carbon footprint and preserve healthy energy. Ignoring the signs of imminent danger due to rising temperatures can put the world in a state of emergency.

Climate change is not just about an economic or “green” matter to protect the planet. It is an issue that tests national security guidance established in U.S. strategy. As President Obama stated (in comparison to terrorism, national debt and federal programs), “No challenge—no challenge—poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Climate change is a threat and we need to address it as such.


Author: Dr. Monique M. Maldonado is a U.S. Air Force active duty service member and adjunct professor. She teaches for the School of Graduate and Degree Completion Programs in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tiffin University. She is a researcher in public policy and administration as well as national security policy and terrorism issues. For any questions or concerns, Dr. Maldonado can be reached at moniquemmaldonado@hotmail.com

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