The threat of the climate crisis isn’t necessarily less of a risk to the United States just because of a potential impending war in Ukraine, according to the White House.
On Tuesday, in response to a question from Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the direct risks of the Ukraine crisis to the US, and said she deferred to the military’s judgment that climate change is major national security issue.
“The president said in the spring that the greatest threat facing America was global warming. Is that still the assessment now that we are facing down a potential cyber war with Russia?” Mr Doocy asked, highlighting Americans who are concerned seeing “distressing images of the Russian military movements”.
“While we are always prepared for any threat that any outside entity or country poses to the United States as it relates to cyber or anything else, there is no current pending threat as it relates to cyber,” Ms Psaki responded. “In terms of the threats you’re touching on, that was a briefing from the military, so I’d point you to them.”
The president and the military have been explicit that they consider the climate crisis and the resulting social changes that accompany it significant threats – if not the greatest threat – to the US.
“Y’know when I was over in the tank in the Pentagon, and I was first elected vice president with President Obama, the military sat us down to let us know what the greatest threats facing America were, the greatest physical threats. This is not a joke. Y’know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was?” Mr Biden said in remarks last June at a US Air Force Base in Suffolk, England.
“Global warming,” he continued, “because there’ll be significant population movements, fights over land, millions of people leaving places.”
The military has backed up this assessment, though it adds that strictly militarily, great power competition from Russia and China still top the list.
“The president is looking at [potential threats] at a much broader angle than I am,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told Congress last summer. “I’m looking at it from a strictly military standpoint and, from a strictly military standpoint, I’m putting China and Russia up there. That is not, however, in conflict with the acknowledgment that climate change, or infrastructure, or education systems – national security has a broad angle to it.”
Still, climate change will exacerbate that threat, the high-ranking military leader added.
“Climate change is going to impact natural resources, for example. It’s going to impact increased instability in various parts of the world. It’s going to impact migrations, and so on,” he said.
Last October, the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defence, as well as the National Security Council and the Director of National Intelligence all released reports underscoring the massive threat global heating and its consequences pose to the US and world security.
Changes to the climate will cause conflicts over water and food in low-income countries, especially those like Iraq which could see fossil fuel revenues dry up.
In the Arctic, thawing ice will increase competition for fish, trade routes, and natural resources like oil.
Then there’s also the more literal threat climate change poses to the military, which has numerous facilities on coastlines at risk of sea level rise and in remote areas prone to wildfire.
“From extreme weather events to record heat, the DHS work force is on the front lines of the climate emergency every day,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement at the time.
The reports also painted a grim picture of world progress towards a low-carbon future that would assure greater security.
“Given current government policies and trends in technology development, we judge that collectively countries are unlikely to meet the Paris goals,” read a section of the National Intelligence Estimate. “High-emitting countries would have to make rapid progress toward decarbonizing their energy systems by transitioning away from fossil fuels within the next decade, whereas developing countries would need to rely on low-carbon energy sources for their economic development.”