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Brigadier General Stephen Cheney

25 November 2013
Brigadier General Stephen Cheney

US “cannot afford to ignore climate risk”

Brigadier General Stephen Cheney is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Security Project (ASP).  He served in the Marine Corps for over 30 years where he was the Commanding General at Parris Island, as well as the Deputy Executive Secretary to Defense Secretaries Cheney and Aspin and the Inspector General of the Marine Corps.

He spoke at Climate Week NYC in September 2013 on the national security implications of a changing climate. 

"I’ve been told to keep mine particularly brief.  We have a very distinguished panel here.  So as King Henry XIII told his six wives, ‘I won’t keep you very long.’

"I am the CEO of the American Security Project.  It’s a bipartisan think tank and we’re focused on climate change and long-term national security.  We were founded by a board that includes Senators Kerry, Hagel, Hart and Rudman, as well as many senior retired flag officers and businesspeople. 

"Climate security has always been one of our core areas. Today you’re going to hear all about the science and the economic impacts. But I’m here to talk about climate change, and how it affects national security here in the United States, and security worldwide.

"Climate change is caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels.  It’s real.  And it’s already affecting our national security. 

"It threatens our security because it is a ‘threat multiplier,’ or an ‘accelerant of instability’ that affects issues like food, water, energy security.  It’s already driving internal and cross-border migration.  And it’s causing food and water security challenges. 

"While the link between climate and conflict continues to be the subject of intense academic debate, we are already seeing how climate change is affecting security around the world and here in this country. 

"Security is an argument for risk management – something that militaries (and I would know) do well.  The American Security Project has undertaken a new survey this year to look at all 196 countries in the world to see how their security communities are preparing for climate change.  The governments and militaries of an overwhelming majority of these countries – at least 70 percent – have identified climate change as a threat to their security.  Many have fully integrated it into their defense and national security planning documents, as we have here in the United States. 

"The importance that military and defense planners place on climate change shows that the world is demanding action and is ready to address this issue.  Those who disagree with the clear global military consensus on climate change are ignoring risk and putting the world’s security in danger. 

"It affects our homeland security as well.  The impacts of Superstorm Sandy were no less traumatic than any other homeland security mission today. 

"Looking around the world there are hotspots for the connection between climate change and security - to name a few: South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, all heavily populated, all armed states, all at high risk for flooding, water insecurity, and food shortages. 

"Africa is at risk from drought or extreme weather.  And they can cause dangerous migrations, which we are already seeing - putting different ethnic and cultural groups in competitions – particularly, for example, in Mali.

"The Middle East is already a tinderbox.  High food prices combined with drought can quickly drive people to protest. 

"In none of these will climate change necessarily directly cause the conflict.  But it will certainly make the already existing threats more dangerous. 

"In summation, national security is about managing risk.  We should start by acknowledging the risk of climate change.  They are real.  They are growing everyday.  We cannot afford to ignore climate risk. 

"Even if you choose not to believe that human activity contributes to climate change, or even that climate change is changing, prudent planning means that you cannot wait until you have 100 percent certainty.  Waiting for certainty on the battlefield can be disastrous. 

"All of this argues for prudent, no-regrets action to reduce emissions and build greater resiliency now in order to reduce future risk.

"We need a smarter debate about climate change.  And I know The Climate Group is really helping us do that.”

Watch the speech recorded live at Climate Week NYC:

Watch on YouTube 

Read Brigadier General Cheney’s op-ed in Breaking Energy 

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