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Obama Says Climate Change Is an Immediate Threat to National Security

The president delivered a wide-ranging speech on Wednesday about the threats to national security and the US economy brought about by climate change.
Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Failing to take action in the face of global climate change amounts to negligence that will set "a course for disaster," President Barack Obama told graduating US Coast Guard cadets Wednesday.

"You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us," Obama said at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. He said rising global temperatures "will shape how every one of our services plans, operates, trains, equips, and protects their infrastructure and their capabilities, today and for the long run."


"If you see storm clouds gathering or dangerous shoals ahead, you don't sit back and do nothing. You take action to protect your ship and keep it safe," Obama said. "Anything else is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty."

A White House document released as Obama headed for New London summarized the kind of problems the newly commissioned ensigns will be facing. Sea levels are projected to rise as much as a foot along much of the Atlantic coast by 2050. Military installations even far inland have suffered flood damage from unusually heavy storms. And the Coast Guard would be the lead agency to respond to any oil spills as energy companies like Shell attempt to drill in the Arctic, which is warming at twice the rate of the globe as a whole.

— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse)May 20, 2015

politicians who care about military readiness need to care about climate as well,— RL Miller (@RL_Miller)May 20, 2015

"Few know the Arctic better than the US Coast Guard, and as the Arctic opens, the role that the Coast Guard plays will only grow," Obama said.

In October, a Pentagon report warned that climate change was a national security issue, one that can accelerate or magnify crises by creating food and water shortages, waves of refugees or conflict over dwindling natural resources. The report called on the armed forces to identify and plan for the impacts of global climate change.

The White House called warming "an urgent and growing threat" in the National Security Strategy it published in February. And Obama gave the issue a few lines in his State of the Union address, mocking critics who "try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists"—a common refrain among politicians who oppose action to rein in carbon emissions.

"The rhetoric is all good," said retired US Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, a board member at the Center for Climate and Security. "What we are waiting to see is if this administration will commit real resources in the budgets of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to enable those Departments to take actions commensurate with the challenges the President describes so eloquently."

Related: Pentagon warns of immediate national security threats from climate change