Trust in Science is the Key to our Future National Security

In the days of fake news and alternative facts, we are in an Information War. Never has faith in science, knowledge, and reason been as important as it is today. Climate change is real, and it is our greatest global challenge. To deny the proof is akin to questioning the correlation between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer or brushing your teeth and cavities. Having stepped up to become a leader in the fight against climate change, the U.S. must continue to invest in clean energy technology, talent, and collaboration.

In 1948, at the 100th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, President Harry S. Truman said that “continuous research by our best scientists is the key to American scientific leadership and true national security.” Truman stood up as a strong defender of the scientific community and understood the importance of innovation as a means of developing economic soft power.

This centennial address took place three years after the dropping of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman would go on to found the National Science Foundation in 1950 and transform the Manhattan Project’s wartime nuclear industrial complex into the national laboratory system we know today as the backbone of federal investments in research and development.

Despite these successes, the cadre of national, naturalized, and international scientists that joined the U.S. in its development of a nuclear arsenal would become pariahs within American society as the country battled the rise of communism in the East. The scientific community came under intense scrutiny for promulgating the nuclear era in ways which are now eerily similar to the challenges facing climate scientists who are no more responsible for their message than any other citizen.

Countering this criticism, Truman emphasized that science should remain separate from any political affiliations. “Concern for our national security,” he said, “is nonpartisan. Sober recognition of scientific research as the basis of our future national security should certainly be nonpartisan… Now and in the years ahead, we need, more than anything else, the honest and uncompromising common sense of science.”

President Barack Obama echoed the importance of knowledge and truth through science at his Farewell Address at McCormick Place in Chicago: “Politics is a battle of ideas… But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”

During his tenure, Obama prioritized and leveraged the full force of the American scientific and innovative ecosystem to address climate change as the greatest global challenge of our time and make this country a leader in the fight to mitigate its effects. He addressed the challenges which remain in his Farewell Address: “Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects.”

Climate change has been identified as a threat-multiplier by the Department of Defense because rising average global temperatures will increase ocean water levels and increase the severity of weather events, which then creates national security risks due to food and resource scarcity, mass migrations of displaced populations, increased conflicts between nations, and rapid response to natural disasters.

Major advances have been made in solar and wind which will mitigate these effects by reducing global carbon emissions as well as diversifying our energy economy, which, in turn, decreases dependency on foreign resources. However, there are still major technology gaps in our ability to properly utilize these systems on the grid. In particular, we need to invest in energy storage capabilities that will push past the limitations of existing batteries. Furthermore, advances in technology are responsible for half of all worldwide economic growth; therefore, continued investments in clean energy research today will secure our own economic advantage in the future.

America’s history of technological innovation, enabled by its talent and collaborations, has driven the country’s economic success and subsequent national security over the past century, and we must imbue that innovative spirit across the country for the future of our national security. The innovative spirit, value of science, and pursuit of knowledge similarly expressed by former Presidents Truman and Obama is a main tenet of the Truman National Security Project worldview. Maximizing our innovative ecosystem is more than providing the budget and infrastructure — it is about inspiring and supporting the people who can discover the missing technology as well as encouraging collaboration with nations around the world who share this common interest.

Having delegitimized the threat of climate change by sowing distrust in the scientific community and supporting institutions, the incoming administration now intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which plans to decrease global carbon emissions and reduce regulation of the fossil fuel industry under the pretext of creating more jobs and improving the economy. It is tantamount to our future national security that the leaders of our government at every level continue to decry climate change as a real and tangible threat, support investments in clean energy technology, and foster the innovative spirit. Such actions are necessary so that we can diversify our energy supplies in order to reduce dependency on foreign oil and mitigate the effects of climate change as a threat multiplier.

Dan Misch is a U.S. Navy veteran and member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council. Views expressed are his own.

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