Fact Check: Ken Buck’s “radical climate change agenda” statement at odds with Department of Defense

Global climate change presents extensive security risks to the military, the department says

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Fact Check: Ken Buck’s “radical climate change agenda” statement at odds with Department of Defense

Denver Post file photo

Denver Post file photo

Denver Post file photo

Denver Post file photo

Cay Leytham-Powell, CU News Corps

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Editor’s note: This story first ran in The Denver Post on Oct. 13, 2016.

In a statement that has been recently repeated by major news outlets, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Greeley, said that climate change detracts from national security, a statement that disregards formal pronouncements from the Department of Defense.

“When we distract our military with a radical climate change agenda, we detract from their main purpose of defending America from enemies like ISIS,” Buck said in late June.

Buck, who is running for re-election to the U.S. House from Colorado’s 4th District, made this statement as part of a release to introduce an amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill, which would have eliminated funds for department directive called Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience. The directive became effective in January and specified that the department must incorporate climate change resilience into all actions taken.

The amendment passed the House. But the Defense appropriations bill with Buck’s amendment later died in the Senate.

Buck’s statement that climate change is a distraction does not align with the Defense Department’s stance on the issue. According to department reports dating back to 2006, climate change is one of the biggest threats to the military and to national security.

Global climate change presents extensive security risks to the military, the department has said, with climate change and energy securities being listed as “prominent military vulnerabilities.”

Climate change will affect the military in two fundamental ways, according to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which says that climate change will “shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake,” and that Defense “will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on our facilities and military capabilities.”

The Climate Security Consensus Project, a nonpartisan group of 25 military and national security leaders, reiterated this point, stating that climate change presents a “significant risk” to national security.

Coastal military installations and bases are at the greatest risk, according to scientific reports. The Union of Concerned Scientists said in a July report that 18 U.S. military bases are threatened with rising sea levels, and four installations are at risk of losing 75 to 95 percent of their land by 2100.

The second part of Buck’s statement that concern with climate change detracts from the military’s “main purpose of defending America from enemies like ISIS,” does not tell the whole truth.

“The responsibility of the Department of Defense is the security of our country. That requires thinking ahead and planning for a wide range of contingencies,” said former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. These contingencies include terrorism, cyber-terrorism and issues impacted by and related to climate change such as natural disaster occurrence.

In a 2014 speech, Christine Wormuth, a deputy undersecretary of defense, added managing the consequences of natural disasters to the Defense Department’s core mission of “protecting the homeland.” Climate change is “an underlying meta-driver of unpredictable instability,” James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said in a recent speech.

According to the Department of the Navy, while climate change does not inherently create insecurity, it can exacerbate potential conflict, including social instability and the need for disaster response.

Insecurity has led the Defense Department to approach climate change as a serious threat, taking proactive steps such as the adaptation and resilience directive. Buck’s statement disregards this established information.

A second-year master’s student in Media and Public Engagement at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Cay Leytham-Powell’s emphasis is in science and environmental journalism. She works extensively with the Center for Environmental Journalism at CU. Currently, she is the editorial assistant for the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics and an assistant art editor for SAPIENS, an anthropology publication. She graduated with a degree in biology from Grand View University.

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