American Policy: Saving Trillions Part 3: National Security

Part three of the American Policy portion of the Climate Change Policy Series: Act America, act now, sooner than later. Climate change inaction stands to cost Americans trillions of dollars due to loss of biodiversity, economic spillovers, national security, and migration. The bottom line: mitigating climate change now and swiftly will save Americans more money than inaction or slow action.

Unfortunately, many of today's American policy makers misuse climate models for short term gain. These models should be taken with a grain of salt; they are educated predictions of the future that leave out major considerations. One consideration, National Security, has the potential to be the largest US climate change cost. In 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) reported climate change effects on national security, using input from all 18 U.S. intelligence agencies, it concluded that "Climate change could destabilize fragile political regimes, exacerbate conflicts over scarce resources, increase the threat of terrorism, disrupt trade, and produce millions of refugees, all of which would seriously affect U.S. national security" (US NIC, 2008).

Weakened Allies means a weakened United States: climate change effects of flooding and water scarcity will begin a chain reaction of events leading to conflicts that threaten US Allies. "In especially hard hit nations, deteriorating economic conditions could lead to the fall of governments, creating, at worst, safe havens and, at best, fertile recruitment grounds for terrorist groups" (US NIC, 2008). One example is Bangladesh, an unstable region known for its growing number of terrorist acts and presence of Islamic extremism (Freeman & Guzman, 2009). One fifth of Bangladesh is expected to flood out due to glacial melt, displacing a portion of the expected 242M inhabitants. Economic turmoil and political upheaval would threaten African allies like Nigeria, which imports one-fifth of US oil (Mouawad, 2007). Like all African nations it is dependent on agriculture, which will be devastated by climate change and drought. Sixty percent of Nigerians work in agriculture; their unemployment would trigger migration to urban centers and stress a country with a history of political turmoil. Similar water woes are shared between N. Africa and the adjacent Middle East; the region only has 1.4% of the world’s renewable fresh water and 6.3% of its population (Rausser & Small, 2000).

Middle East conflicts represent a calamitous price for national security. The direct cost of the Iraq war was $657M, as of 2008 (Congressional Research Service, 2008). The Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost the US $3T (Stiglitz & BILMES, 2008), considering indirect costs such as care for injured veterans. If US investments in climate change mitigation would result in avoiding conflicts (like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) once every 25 years, the US would save 1% of annual GDP (Freeman & Guzman, 2009).

The bottom line: mitigating climate change for protecting US National Security alone could save trillions. The sooner, the cheaper; the best defense is a strong offense. Continuing the American Policy portion of the Climate Change Policy Series, the next post will cover Migration (Freeman & Guzman, 2009).

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