Climate Change Jeopardizes All of Our Vital Interests
By Jessica Wells
Our country faces numerous threats to its national security. There’s terrorism, both domestic and foreign. North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and its erratic dictator should not be underestimated. Nor should we overlook the Iranian government’s support of proxy wars in the Middle East.
However, if we are talking about a national security threat in terms of the destruction of the United States and the American way of life, no threat is more urgent than climate change and the ensuing chaos it brings.
Placing climate change in the context of a national security threat might seem like a poor fit. This is an intangible, complex enemy. It doesn’t have a leadership structure that we can target, like al-Qaida. There are no stated goals to negotiate or counter. However, its effects are already harming American lives and interests.
As the Earth’s temperature rises, the number of extreme weather events has also increased. These episodes create chaos and instability in our country and around the world. The Union of Concerned Scientists website details 19 impacts from climate change, including longer wildfire seasons, coastal flooding, and more destructive hurricanes.
Examples in this country are not hard to find. In 2018 the Camp Fire devastated the town of Paradise, California, killing 86 people, many of them older Americans, and destroying 13,972 homes. Most of the town is still in ruins.
Hurricane Michael, an unusually violent Category 5 storm, leveled Mexico Beach on the Florida panhandle less than one year ago. In 2017 Hurricane Maria was responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico.
In North Carolina we are familiar with the destructive power of hurricanes. In the past three years our state has been hit by two major hurricanes, one a Category 4 storm and the other a Category 5 storm. Each caused loss of life and catastrophic flooding. And here we go again: The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season began officially on June 1.
Climate change affects U.S. military readiness. A January Department of Defense report to Congress states, “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”
The Navy recently completed a biannual training exercise in the Arctic region, where warming temperatures are changing the strategic balance of power. Melting sea ice is allowing countries like Russia and China to increase their presence in the region, threatening American interests there.
To prepare for climate change impacts at military installations, the armed services have identified the bases that are most vulnerable to flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires and thawing of permafrost. One example is the Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which is home to several Navy installations. The report describes it as “very vulnerable to flooding caused by rising sea levels and land subsidence.”
The DoD report refers to climate change effects as “drivers of instability and factional conflict.” Competition for scarce resources is already causing conflict, upheaval, and migration. These trends pose significant security challenges for the United States.
The current influx of migrant families from Central America is a case-in-point. Many immigrants are fleeing not only violence and poverty, but also the effects of a changing climate. Unstable growing seasons have compromised the agricultural industry in parts of this region, destroying farmers’ livelihoods.
Despite this doom and gloom, plenty of reasons to be hopeful exist. Unlike the enemies our country has faced in the past, every American has the power to contribute to the fight against climate change.
The first thing to do is to arm yourself with information. Learn more about climate change through scientific, reputable sources. The Union of Concerned Scientists website that I mentioned above is a great place to start.
Next, contact your elected representatives, at the local, state and national levels, and let them know that climate change is important to you. Urge them to support the expansion of clean energy, like wind and solar power.
If you have the money, trade in your gasoline-dependent car for an electric or hybrid model.
Finally, do something in our community to help. Join an organization like the Democratic Women of Moore County’s Climate Crisis Working Group. Its mission is to study and share information about climate change and take effective steps toward cultural transformation and climate action in Moore County and beyond. All are welcome.
Climate change doesn’t care how you vote or who will win the next election. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.
Jessica Wells is a Southern Pines resident and vice president of the Democratic Women of Moore County.
U.S. Debt Risks Putting Nation to Cut the Military
By John Rowerdink
The topic for this column is, “What is the greatest national security threat facing the United States?”
Depending on whom you ask, you will get a variety of answers to this question. Some will say it’s China, Russia or North Korea. Others will say it’s illegal immigration, health care costs or climate change. I’m guessing that my opinion and that expressed in the companion column to this one will be very different.
I believe that our greatest national security threat is our national debt — currently at $22 trillion and growing.
First, some history: During our country’s first 212 years, from George Washington’s presidency to George W. Bush’s, we accumulated a total of $5 trillion in debt. It increased during World Wars I and II, and we paid it down once the wars were over. Then, during George W. Bush’s two terms, we doubled the debt to $10 trillion. Much worse, we doubled it again to $20 trillion during Barack Obama’s two terms. In those 16 years, we more than quadrupled our national debt, and there is no end in sight.
For those who find the terms “debt” and “deficit” confusing, the national debt is the total amount our country currently owes: $22 trillion. The annual budget deficit is the difference between the country’s revenue and spending for that year. Our government has to borrow the difference, which increases the debt.
In 2018, our government’s revenue was $3.3 trillion. We spent $4.1 trillion, resulting in a deficit of $779 billion. We’ll overspend by a similar amount in 2019.
Most government spending is no longer even negotiable. The combination of entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) plus interest on the national debt and other mandatory spending equals more than two-thirds of total spending. The balance is defense spending (16 percent) and other non-mandatory spending.
We’ve had annual budget deficits of $1 trillion or more only four times during our nation’s history, all of which were during President Obama’s presidency. Now, the deficit is projected to hit $1 trillion by 2020 and $2 trillion by 2027. If we continue to add $1 trillion per year for the next 16 years, our debt will be pretty much beyond solving.
The problem is that we can’t materially reduce our budget deficit without addressing entitlement spending — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — and our politicians just don’t have the courage to do that. Without action on their part, the debt will continue to grow due to our aging population, higher health care costs, and higher interest cost on our existing debt. In 2018, we paid $250 billion in interest on the debt, and this is projected to increase to $900 billion by 2028. It’s like trying to solve your family’s overspending by using a credit card. This is scary stuff.
So why is the national debt our greatest national security threat? Because of all the possible ways to get our debt under control, the only one that will be seen as politically feasible by Democrats is a reduction in defense spending. The other options are to raise taxes — you’d need to increase taxes 25-30 percent, which is very unlikely — or reduce entitlement spending, which is even less likely. Democrats already think we spend too much on national defense, so that’s the only option they’ll support.
Our most dangerous adversaries are China and Russia, both of whom have been dramatically expanding their military capabilities. Reducing our defense spending in the face of their military expansion presents a dangerous national security threat.
Historically, China has not had a military capability that can equal ours. However, that’s changing. That country is now developing a navy that can circle the globe and expanding its fleet of aircraft carriers, submarines and state-of-the-art drones. The Chinese are already flexing their muscles in the South China Sea and showing a willingness to threaten Taiwan, with whom we have a defense treaty. If they decide to invade Taiwan, will we be prepared to honor our defense treaty commitment to the Taiwanese?
Likewise, the Russians are modernizing their military capabilities and have been increasingly willing to challenge us in Ukraine, the Arctic Ocean and elsewhere.
And there are others, including Iran and North Korea. Both China and Russia are currying favor with these rogue countries. This is not the time to reduce our military capability in order to get our debt under control.
The time for action is now. Please let our elected representatives know that this is an urgent priority and a serious national security threat.
Most of the statistics in this column were obtained from “The Campaign to Fix the Debt,” which is a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C., focused on educating the country about the need for fiscal reforms and supporting political action to put our debt on a sustainable path.
John Rowerdink, a Pinehurst resident, is the former chairman of the Moore County Republican Party and president of the Moore County Republican Men’s Club.