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May 20 — Senate Republicans sharply criticized President Barack Obama for saying that climate change represents a “serious threat” to global security and an “immediate risk” to U.S. national security.
None of the senators interviewed by Bloomberg BNA May 20 were surprised by Obama's comments—they said his viewpoint was already well-known—but said there were numerous other factors in the world that constituted greater risks to national security.
“It’s probably in keeping with his views,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s too bad he didn’t mention the fact that people are burned to death in the streets of Ramadi, [Iraq]. That should be more of a concern to anyone who has a moral compass.”
Democratic senators, for their part, backed the president. Climate change will exacerbate regional tensions, result in extreme violence and strain U.S. military installations, they said.
“I think the president is right,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, told Bloomberg BNA. “I think that America is not taking this seriously, and we are seeing changes on this Earth that will [not only] endanger future generations but destabilize the current situation and create fertile fields for violence and dislocation of innocent people.”
Obama spoke of the link between climate change and national security during a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
“This is not just a problem for countries on the coast or for certain regions of the world,” Obama said. “Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and make no mistake: It will impact how our military defends our country.”
The Defense Department and senior military officials have warned climate change will worsen global instability, disease, poverty and conflict.
Some Republican senators criticized Obama's assertions of a link between climate change and national security, while also denying that human activities significantly contribute to climate change.
“We’ll learn to adapt,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters. “I’ve never understood why we think this is the sweet spot in human history and in geologic time that we’ve got to spend hundreds of billions, if not trillions, trying to maintain this temperature. A lot of people write a slight warming of the Earth would be pretty beneficial.”
Asked if climate change had any impact on national security, Johnson said, “I don't think so, no.”
Even moderate Republicans that acknowledge human activity contributes to the problem questioned whether climate change posed an immediate risk to U.S. national security.
“I don’t know if it’s an immediate national security threat, but I think the effects of climate change can destabilize the world,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a likely presidential candidate for 2016, told Bloomberg BNA. “In that regard, it is a national security threat.”
Others were far more blunt in slamming the president's evaluation of national security risks.
“Who’s killing Americans?” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) asked. “Who’s beheading people? Let’s use a little common sense.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined to comment on the substance of Obama's remarks because he hadn't seen them, but said the president likely hoped linking national security to climate change would raise the issue's profile.
“I know that certainly the administration and many others want to create more urgency around that issue,” Corker told Bloomberg BNA, referring to climate change. “Typically the best way to do that is to frame it in national security terms.”
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