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Effects of climate change may spark uproar overseas, endangering U.S. national security

Mackenzie Moore • Updated Jun 12, 2018 at 11:27 PM

Regardless of your political leanings, retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn says climate change is already affecting your national security, and the threat will only increase as global conditions worsen.

Gunn and Esther Babson from the American Security Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, traveled to Johnson City from Washington, D.C., Tuesday to relay issues the U.S. military might face in the future because of climate change.

Gunn explained to the Johnson City Rotary Club the many reasons he continues to promote change by traveling and speaking after his retirement from the U.S. Navy.

“I’m here today because I have six grandkids,” Gunn said. “And I’m increasingly concerned with the kind of world we are going to leave them.”

Gunn urged the club members to consider the links between climate change and national security and provided several examples of endangering factors for U.S. military bases.

“We’ve been studying since 2005 the national security consequences of climate change, the transition to advanced energy and the scarcity around the world of fresh water,” Gunn said. “Those things, from a national security perspective, have taught us that the future that the American military is going to have to work in is going to be different from what it is now.”

Tennessee is a temperate climate state, with warm summers and mild winters, but climate change has intensified the rising sea levels for many U.S. Navy bases on the coast.

“Right now, many military bases are threatened by sea level rises,” Gunn said. “In fact, 18 bases on the East and Gulf Coast have been identified by the Union of Concerned Scientists as being immediately threatened; that is a clear threat right now.

“Flooding is going to become increasingly a limiting factor on the ability to use these bases.” 

Despite global sea level rising and flooding bases, droughts have been devastating countries overseas, causing mass migrations in search of fresh water and food.

“What’s more, shortages in resources are going to aggravate conditions that people around the world lived in already,” Gunn said. “That will put them on the move.

“Mass migration of people is inherently a destabilizing factor around the world. Americans have enjoyed worldwide stability that the military has self-guaranteed.”

And similar to a domino effect, these mass migrations spark uproar in under-developed countries, which increases terrorist threats to U.S. military bases.

“Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the former Chief of Staff in the U.S. Army, coined the term ‘threat multiplier,’” Gunn said. “That sort of incapsulates what we think is going to happen overseas. A change in climate by itself will not make people move, but with a combination of things — the loss of crops — those kinds of things will cause people to move.

“Nations that are having problems providing support to their citizens and establishing order will have more problems in the future, so we’re concerned about more failing nations and ungoverned territory. Young people move and have very little hope of employment or education ... it’s those cases where people are susceptible to recruiting for violent extremist organizations.”

For more information on the American Security Project, visit www.AmericanSecurityProject.org and www.NationalSecurityandClimateChange.org. 

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