Climate change is national and global security threat we must be prepared for, warns Brigadier General Stephen Cheney

Ilario D'Amato
2 September 2015

NEW YORK: Climate change is “a national and global security threat, and we’ve got to be prepared for it,” declares Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret.), CEO of the American Security Project, in an exclusive Climate TV interview for The Climate Group. Watch it below.

“Climate change in itself is not causing conflicts,” he specifies, “but is an accelerant of instability – and we have seen this all over the world.”


Climate change is inherently linked to an increase in terrorist activity, the Brigadier General explains. For example, droughts in the Middle East have further aggravated the situation with ISIS, which is “offering those youth that are unemployed, that don’t have the way to take care of their families or have anything to do, they offer money and a little bit of stability. When the same applies in providing water, food or services, when it’s not there, they can clearly take advantage of those deficiencies. […] So anything that contributes to that instability, whether is lack of water, food or electricity, that’s going to drive those families, those people to the other side. And clearly, climate change is a contributor.”

The Brigadier General draws a parallel between the risk of terrorism and climate change, using the words of the former Vice President Dick Cheney – when he argued that if there’s a 1% chance that Pakistan was going to export nuclear technology to a terrorist organization, would we do something about that?. “And his answer was ‘Yes’”, says Stephen Cheney. “One percent.

He also goes onto criticize the continued denial of the threat posed by climate change in some quarters. “You have a sick child. You go to 100 doctors. 97 of them say ‘your young child needs an operation or something catastrophic is going to happen’. 3 of them say ‘nah, we don’t think so’. My guess is you are going to have the operation done. When you look at that preponderance of evidence it’s clearly there, and you need to do something about it.”

Here we have a 97% chance of saying ‘We know what is causing climate change and it’s hurting us: can we not do something about this?’. So my point is: yes, you’ll always have a couple of deniers, but when the evidence is so overwhelming you gotta do something about it”.

The US military are increasingly concerned about climate disruption, as it is seen both as a threat for global security and the cause of a dramatic increase in the amount of aid that has been deployed around the globe.

Speaking of the recent aid given by the US in the Philippines for Typhoon Hayan, Brigadier General Cheney states: “There’s not another military that’s prepared to do this level of support anywhere in the world. We do it because we can do it.”

The US military is the largest user of fossil fuels in the world, and according to Brigadier Cheney is responding to the threat of climate change through both adaptation and mitigation measures.

He warned that the largest naval base in the world in Norfolk, Virginia, is at risk of going underwater in the next 20 years. “They are already raising the level of the piers,” he says, “because they know the sea level will rise. And there are more than 30 US naval bases around the world that are directly threatened by climate change.”

As for mitigation, “a Combat Commander wants to stop instability,” says the Brigadier General, “and climate change is a contributor to this. Therefore, we’ve got to stop climate change reducing CO2 emissions.”


Climate change is also a specific threat for troops deployed around the world. The US military “burns millions, millions of gallons of gas,” states Cheney. “And they recognize this as a vulnerability. If you are in Iraq or Afghanistan, and you are transporting all this fuel all over the world, the enemy knows where to attack. We’ve lost thousands of contractors, soldiers and marines defending those fuel trains.

“The US military understands that and is trying to wean itself off from its fossil fuel dependence. The other piece of that is they are the major polluter in the world, and they have to set the example.”

Climate disruption is also accelerating global migration. For example, the sea level in Bangladesh will cause a minimum of 5 million refugees – but some analysts push this number further, between 10 and 30 million. “The question is: where are they going? This is going to be a huge humanitarian crisis,” says the Brigadier General.

Stephen Cheney CWNYC

Climate change is also linked to the crisis in Syria, which from 2006 to 2010 suffered the worst drought in its history. “As a consequence, the farmers who lived outside of the cities were driven to the cities, in particular Aleppo,” says Cheney. “What this caused is [a] humanitarian crisis inside these cities. And Assad is taking advantage of this.”

Finally, speaking of the imminent climate talks in Paris, the Brigadier General praised the EU’s climate plans and called on the US to lead in the same way: “We need to go to Paris from a leadership perspective”, he affirmed.

Climate TV

During The Climate Group’s countdown to #CWNYC from Sep 1-20, we will release a series of video interviews for Climate TV. The high-level interviews with experts and leaders will give unique insights into specific policy and business issues linked to climate and low carbon growth, as well as make exclusive announcements.

Visit and subscribe here.


Our digital countdown to Climate Week NYC 2015 runs from September 1-20.

Each day The Climate Group is releasing exclusive conversations with key figures from the worlds of business and politics and beyond – through video, social media and blogs – as well as expert briefings. Follow @ClimateGroup for the latest.

See the full gallery of #CWNYC graphics and tweets to join the countdown, by clicking below.

#CWNYC 2015

Climate Week NYC is a key event in the international calendar that brings together leading governments, investors, businesses, innovators and opinion formers. The Climate Group launched Climate Week NYC in 2009, and has acted as the secretariat since its inception.

Host to more than 100 affiliate events from September 21-28, Climate Week NYC 2015 is the collaborative space for climate events in support of the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda. | @ClimateWeekNYC | #CWNYC

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon