Donald Trump unveiled a National Security Strategy this week that ignored threats posed by climate disruption and cast international efforts to rein in carbon pollution as an opportunity for American “energy dominance” through fossil fuel sales.
In a document that reached back to 19th century visions of international relations as a zero-sum competition among “great power” rivals, Trump largely tossed aside 100 years of international law- and institution-building. He also ignored repeated warnings from the United States’ own military and security advisors that climate change multiplies existing threats and poses new ones to that country’s ability to project its global dominance.
Defying a year of unprecedented pummelling by storms and flames, the strategy Trump personally released on Monday cast climate change as an excuse for other countries to press “an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests.”
The strategy promised “U.S. leadership” to “counter” that agenda, selling an alternative message that, “given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.”
Indeed, the U.S. administration has already shown its “leadership” on that front. Last week it launched a diplomatic effort to push fossil fuel on poor countries, in overt defiance of a campaign recently launched by Canada and the United Kingdom to encourage developing nations to opt instead for cleaner, less expensive renewable energy.
Trump’s strategy document—similar in form to others released by several U.S. presidents—is the former reality TV star’s “first comprehensive effort to describe an all-encompassing strategic worldview,” the New York Times writes.
It purports to focus his administration’s security thinking on efforts to best Russia and China in geopolitical rivalry. But the Washington Post slams the “incoherence” of its contents, while the Times observes that the document contained “little about dealing with the kind of cyber and information warfare techniques that Moscow used to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
Trump’s America will, however, double down on maintaining its standing nuclear threat to other countries as “the foundation of our strategy.”
Most strikingly, as alarm bells ring from science labs around the globe that humanity’s natural security is at best precarious, the Times observes, “Trump does not recognize the changing climate as a threat to national security. The document instead places climate under a section on embracing ‘energy dominance.’”
The change puts the White House “at odds with the Pentagon, which has continued to highlight national security threats from a changing climate, including refugee flows as a result of droughts and intensifying storms and the repercussions of rising sea waters,” the paper notes.
Indeed, in a striking contradiction, the U.S. General Accounting Office warned only last week that the American military “is failing to adequately plan for the risks that climate change poses to hundreds of overseas facilities,” InsideClimate News reports. And in March, veteran journalist Andy Revkin reported that Trump’s own defense secretary, James Mattis, cited climate change as a threat to America’s security interests in Congressional testimony.
The president’s insouciant dismissal of climate change also defied a comprehensive study released by the U.S. government’s own scientists last month which linked human-caused climate change to present-day threats to millions of Americans’ personal security. Those threats include fiercer storms of the kind that struck Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico this year, and wildfires like those that have left much of southern California “like a warzone” in the last month.
The dissonance was only compounded this week when, within hours of Trump’s security speech, the U.S. House of Representatives revealed what Politico calls “a staggering $81 billion disaster aid package, the largest single funding request for natural calamities in U.S. history.”
“If approved,” Politico notes, “Congress will have spent more than $130 billion on a spate of deadly hurricanes and wildfires this fall, outpacing the total amount of aid after both Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.”
All of those catastrophes have been linked to climate change. And indeed, it’s unclear how closely America’s military and other public service professionals will follow their commander-in-chief’s cavalier dismissal of climate effects.
“Climate change impacts are recognized by our national security leadership as ‘facts on the ground,’” retired Rear Admiral David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University, told E&E News [subs req’d], “and this will continue even if they aren’t explicitly recognized’ in the National Security Strategy.
And as Climate News Network observed, Trump himself, famous for not reading briefing documents or much else, signed the latest U.S. National Defense Authorization Act into law December 12. It requires the Pentagon “to report on how military installations and overseas staff may be vulnerable to climate change over the next two decades.”