The Paris Climate Agreement was once considered a triumph for the world. All but two countries across the world agreed to the goals laid out by the agreement to cut emissions and mitigate continuing damage to our environment. Nicaragua did not sign only because the country did not consider it strong enough, and Syria did not sign because it was largely viewed at the time as an international pariah due to its devastating civil war.
Then, on 1 June 2017, the United States joined their ranks when President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement. Thanks to the president’s decision, the United States, which represents a giant chunk of emissions worldwide, will no longer be bound to follow through on its commitments to fight for a better, safer environment for future generations once the withdrawal is complete.
Therefore, it is more important than ever that the whole spectrum of consequences of climate change be understood and taken into mind so that others can step forward where the administration has failed to do so.
In a survey conducted by John Jay College and another research organization, researchers gauged public familiarity with climate change’s relationship with security. They discovered that respondents, especially those who already believed that climate change is caused by humans, would likely change their lifestyles and voting patterns if they understood that climate change is a threat to national security.
Their data shows that a whopping 86.6 percent of all respondents may, probably, or definitely would change their lifestyles if U.S. national security was at risk due to climate change. This is a significant number, especially when compared to the even higher number of 92.6 percent that may, probably, or definitely would change their lifestyles if they already believed that human activity causes climate change. Furthermore, the data shows that 83.8 percent of all respondents may, probably, or definitely would focus attention to climate issues if certain that national security was at risk.
This data shows that if certain of a relationship between climate change and national security threats, many respondents would be spurred to take some sort of action. We must remember, though, that the results do not necessarily indicate that this is indeed the operating belief.
Another dataset in the poll shows that familiarity with the idea that climate change is a threat multiplier is actually quite low in both the group of those already believing that human activity causes it and the overall group of respondents. In the former group, familiarity with the concept is at 41.7 percent, while 27.5 percent are unsure. In the group as a whole, familiarity with the concept is at 37.5 percent, while 28.3 percent are unsure. A problem here arises: A significant portion of the respondents would be inclined to make changes to their lifestyles and even voting habits if they were certain that climate change posed a risk to national security, but at the same time, many of them are not familiar with the relationship between the two at all.
But what is a threat multiplier exactly, and why should we be concerned? The Defense Department has for years discussed the consequences that climate change will have on situations that our troops face. For example, climate change exacerbates already tense regions rife with terrorist insurgencies—regions that also may not be able to adequately respond to increasing natural disasters, rising sea levels, or increased prevalence of new diseases due to political and economic instability. This exacerbation and complication of issues due to the effects of climate change is what makes climate change a threat multiplier.
The survey results also highlight the importance of veterans being a loud voice on the issue of climate change and its relationship with national security given how they have served in the very regions facing the threats mentioned above. And now that our country’s leadership has moved to abandon the parameters of the Paris Climate Agreement, the experience and leadership of veterans are needed more than ever.
The Department of Defense has long made clear that climate change is a threat multiplier and risk to national security. Yet with the current administration dismissing this fact, it is of utmost importance that all Americans step up to understand how climate change threatens our national security and to work alongside veterans to fight for a better, safer future.
Zach Phil Schwartz is a rising senior at Brandeis University studying International & Global Studies, Anthropology, Italian Studies, and Politics. He is also a Communications Intern at the Truman National Security Project in Washington, DC. Views expressed are his own.