Climate change presented as national security issue

February 11, 2014
Retired military leaders Stephen A. Cheney, foreground right, and David Titley, background, speak with audience members following their lectures on climate change and national security at Washington & Jefferson College. - Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A retired rear admiral, David Titley, had a simple explanation for why the military is sharing the helm of climate-change policy.

“Why did the Department of Defense get into this?” he asked Monday night inside Washington & Jefferson College’s Burnett Center. “The fact is its leaders have seen these changes firsthand and realize that if you don’t prepare for them, there will be consequences.”

Titley, a Navy man, was one of three panelists who spearheaded a program titled “Climate Change and Its impact on National Security.” It was presented by American Security Project, which describes itself at as “a nonpartisan public policy and research organization dedicated to national security issues.”

Titley spoke along with Stephen Cheney, a retired Marine brigadier general, and Andrew Holland, a senior fellow with ASP, which has secured the services of retired military officers to help disseminate its messages.

The primary message, according to the think tank’s website, is a “grassroots effort to build a consensus among Americans … that climate change is not simply a low-priority ‘green’ issue; it is a pressing national security threat, and should be treated as such.”

ASP said that domestically, extreme weather can threaten energy, infrastructure and food production as well as individuals, and on a worldwide scope, affect U.S. military operations with allies or against foes.

Monday’s event at W&J was the kickoff of a national tour that included a stop Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh. ASP drew a rapt audience of 62 at W&J, which included 13 ROTC students from the school. The panelists spoke for 45 minutes before fielding questions for another 40.

They talked about how the climate of Pennsylvania changed over the past 20 years, with more extreme temperatures and unpredictable snowfalls. Those changes, they said, can increase the vulnerability of a state where agriculture, energy and manufacturing abound.

They can result in more frequent flooding of the two largest cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which are located along rivers.

Titley, who said he “grew up loving weather,” is a professor in the Department of Meteorology at Penn State University and director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk there. He also was once in charge of the Navy’s ocean and weather communities.

He has a number of concerns, many from firsthand experiences. One was personally devastating. Titley showed photos of a home he had in Mississippi that, one day later, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Global warming has him wary, as well. “Heat has gone up over time while solar output has stayed steady,” Titley said.

Cheney addressed the energy picture, saying the U.S. should strive to diminish the use of fossil fuels while acknowledging that they likely will be a necessary evil for years to come.

“We will be dependent to some degree on fossil fuels for probably another 100 years,” Cheney said. “Fracking (for gas) affords us the opportunity to have different energies.

“We have to limit fossil fuels emissions that may affect our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but change is coming.”

Holland, who works in Washington, D.C., urged lawmakers there and across the nation to heed ASP’s climate concerns.

“Things don’t happen without American leadership contributing,” he said. “There is not an easy solution and there are a lot of steps, but this has to be a priority.

“If something is a national security threat, it should be a priority.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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