How Does Climate Change Affect Homeland Security?

The impacts of an unstable global climate are often framed in terms of ecological consequences, but there is another angle with far more pragmatic features—the intersection of homeland security and climate change. Several policy initiative have studied the ways in which climate shift serves to accelerate scenarios of political instability, act as a rationale for mass migration, and undermine the infrastructure of the United States through storms, droughts, and other long-term patterns.

Infrastructure, Climate, and Instability

Before we delve into the global consequences of climate change, it’s imperative to examine the domestic consequences. While no society can protect itself from the interconnected repercussions of the increasingly unstable global climate, there are real and tangible impacts for us to examine. Why is infrastructure stability important and how does climate change pose a threat to the systems upon which we all rely for daily life?

One major feature of climate instability is sea level rise, which impacts all coastal cities and holds the potential to drastically impact even settlements, industries, or agricultural interests that are farther inland. While this impact is often calculated in terms of the cost to cities or states attempting to stem the consequences of streets at sea level, inadequate storm water disposal systems, and other matters of real estate, consider the larger issues for homeland security and climate change. The entire coast of Louisiana is currently imperiled by erratic rates of flooding and silting, effectively sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in October of 2012, it deprived millions of people of basic utilities, often effectively stranding them. In addition, it cost states of the northeastern seaboard billions of dollars in essential repairs to buildings and power grid installations. Because stronger storm systems are often a consequence of a destabilized ocean-air current system, the prospect of damages exceeding even these is no longer safely in the realm of fantasy.

The Global Stage

While experts have been working to assess and mitigate international threats to our security for the past several years, recently, the Secretary of Defense made an unequivocal statement about the role of climate change in geopolitical instability. James Mattis stated that he believed climate change directly impacts stability in regions where U.S. forces are stationed, representing an immediate threat to their safety and a more attenuated crisis on a political front.

Such sentiments are not new, but shed clear light on the relationship between climate-driven ecological instability and the resultant social and political instability of many less developed and affluent regions of the world. In countries such as South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and abutting states, the risk or reality of broad scale famine has been recognized. These are also areas in which unsanctioned or politically violent factions stage coups, extorting and brutalizing entire populations, which often results in humanitarian crises and refugee migrations.

Unfortunately, while the Obama administration issued directives late in 2016 to all relevant branches of administrative government, which were designed to assess potential consequences of climate change and develop action plans, nothing has been done. The precise reason is unclear, but it may be related to institutional differences, executive directives, or lack of clear leadership. What is obvious is that the connection between homeland security and climate change is recognized by several key figures, even as others vociferously deny it.

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