U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn has always positioned himself as a steadfast supporter of the military and an opponent of action on global warming. In light of the growing climate-related national security threats that our country faces and our military prepares for today, these two stances are inconsistent.
In January, the director of National Intelligence testified before a Senate committee, in unequivocal terms, that climate change will worsen civil unrest, resource scarcity, migration, and interstate conflict in the Middle East and Africa. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that such climate-related conflicts might necessitate U.S. military intervention.
For many parts of the world suffering the effects of global warming, this is old news. A devastating drought in Syria helped set the stage for the country’s civil war. Similarly, the severe water shortage in the Lake Chad region of Nigeria might have facilitated the emergence of Boko Haram, a terrorist network in Africa. These examples illustrate climate change as a “threat multiplier,” a term used by military analysts and climate scientists that refers to global warming’s ability to “aggravate stressors... that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” Consequently, climate change might usher in more violence and insurgency at home and abroad, particularly amid dire projections that parts of the Middle East will become uninhabitably hot in the coming century.
In addition to the security risks of global unrest, climate change will pose direct threats to military assets and undermine military capabilities. Hurricanes and floods migth be the most salient dangers elsewhere in the country. But even in temperate Colorado Springs, our military infrastructure is also increasingly at risk of harm from climate change, as described in The Gazette this year. We remember the Waldo Canyon fire ablaze on the western horizon in the summer of 2012. In response, costly Air Force resources, including C-130 aircraft, were diverted from normal operations to fight the flames descending upon our city. This is just one example — highlighted in a recent Department of Defense climate-related vulnerability assessment — illustrating that military installations in Colorado Springs are experiencing consequences from climate change, including extreme temperatures, drought, wildfire, and high winds.
Other effects are more insidious. Another 2016 report from Department of Defense’s environmental research programs projects that Colorado Springs Utilities will not be able to meet the water needs of the Air Force Academy by midcentury. Moreover, in early 2019 the Department of Defense publicized its concern that higher temperatures and worsening drought will increase the number of “black flag” no-training days, reduce surface water supplies for military installations, increase heat-related illness amongst our troops, and dry out vegetation in fire-prone regions. For the military bases in and around Colorado Springs, such changes will compromise military readiness. They will also cost money and resources — such as the “claims, asset loss, and suppression activities” after the March 2018 fire on Fort Carson that was triggered by a live-fire training exercise.
While our elected representatives fail to act on global warming, the military is taking a swift and proactive approach to climate change commensurate with the severe national security threat it poses. The Department of Defense reported in January, “from a resources perspective, DoD is incorporating climate resilience as a cross-cutting consideration for our planning and decision-making processes.” This includes making assets more resistant to weather extremes, preparing for projected hydrologic changes, and reducing energy use. The Department of Defense is the largest energy consumer in the U.S., and it views its reliance on nonrenewable energies as a vulnerability. As a result, the military is actively exploring means to procure energy from cleaner and renewable sources.
We should not let political division distract our attention from the urgency of our climate crisis. It is an extraordinary danger to the U.S. economy. It is a health emergency. It is a peril for the recreational activities we enjoy as Coloradans. And it is an unprecedented threat to our national security. As such, we should all urge Rep. Lamborn to update his stance on climate change to align with that of the Department of Defense, and to advocate to make our forces more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Our military is taking this threat seriously, will we?
Jake Fox is a Springs native and a graduate student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who studies the health effects of climate change.