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Warming and Global Security

By New York Times (The New York Times) - April 20, 2007

People who give short shrift to environmental matters pay attention when national security becomes part of the conversation. So the debate over global warming took a useful turn this week as diplomats and retired military officers drew persuasive connections between climate change and the very real potential for regional upheavals.

On Monday, 11 retired admirals and generals released a detailed 68-page report arguing that climate change could be a “threat multiplier” in already fragile parts of the world. Rising sea levels could threaten the livelihoods of more than one billion people living within 45 miles of Asia’s coastlines. In Africa, recurring heat waves could cause widespread shortages of food and water, leading to large-scale migrations and escalating tensions.

Anthony Zinni, the retired Marine general, made the point elegantly when he said that “we will pay for this one way or the other” — either now, to control the emission of greenhouse gases, or later, in military engagements and “human lives.”

These same themes were taken up at the United Nations, where the Security Council, under Britain’s leadership, held its first-ever discussion of the link between climate change and international conflict. An overwhelming majority of nations voiced grave concerns about climate change, and many urged stricter worldwide controls on greenhouse gases.

Among the few doubters were the United States and China — neither of which has mandatory controls (the Bush administration actively opposes them). Both argued that the Council was the wrong place to raise the issue. What they were really saying was that they don’t want to be pushed. In an alliance of denial, China and the United States are using each other’s inaction as an excuse to do nothing.

That is yet another reason why Congress should be moving ahead with legislation to curb and reverse America’s production of greenhouse gases. With members of the military elite joining mayors, governors and business leaders in demanding action, the Democrats in Congress have all the arguments they need to take the lead.