President Barack Obama is framing the challenges of climate change as a matter of national security that threatens to aggravate poverty and political instability around the globe and jeopardize the readiness of U.S. forces.
“Make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” the president says in excerpts of a commencement address prepared for delivery Wednesday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. “And so we need to act and we need to act now.”
The president in recent months has pressed for action on climate change as a matter of health, as a matter of environmental protection and as a matter of international obligation. He’s even couched it as a family matter, linking it to the worry he felt when one his daughters had an asthma attack as a preschooler.
His speech to the cadets, by contrast, is focused on what the Obama administration says are immediate risks to national security, including contributing to more natural disasters that result in humanitarian crises and potential new flows of refugees. Further, the president sees climate change aggravating poverty and social tensions that can fuel instability and foster terrorist activity and other violence.
Obama said the cadets would be part of the first generation of officers to begin their service in a world where it is increasingly clear that “climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip and protect their infrastructure.”
His prepared remarks said climate change “is not just a problem for countries on the coast or for certain regions of the world. Climate change impacts every country on the planet.”
As for the impact in the U.S., Obama pointed to streets in Miami and Charleston, South Carolina, that flood at high tide and to military bases around the country already feeling negative effects.
“Around Norfolk, high tides and storms increasingly flood parts of our Navy base and an air base,” Obama said of military facilities in Virginia. “In Alaska, thawing permafrost is damaging military facilities. Out West, deeper droughts and longer wildfires could threaten training areas our troops depend on.”
With the Republican-led Congress indifferent to Obama’s entreaties, the president has been doing what he can to combat climate change through executive orders to cut greenhouse gas emissions and through the powers of persuasion. But his climate change agenda has drawn strong political opposition and a number of legal challenges. Many of the GOP presidential candidates for 2016 have said that taking unilateral steps to address climate change could hurt the U.S. economy.
Obama’s appearance at the Coast Guard Academy was to be his second and last commencement address of the season after speaking earlier this month at a community college in South Dakota. The president traditionally delivers a commencement address every year to one of the service academies.
Later Wednesday, he was visiting Stamford, Connecticut, for a Democratic fundraiser at a private home, with about 30 supporters contributing up to $33,400 each.