This story is over 5 years old.


Stop Talking About Climate Change, House Republicans Tell the Pentagon and CIA

The Department of Defense has identified climate change as an immediate national security threat — Republicans in the House of Representatives disagree and want to ax Pentagon and CIA funds for climate change research and analysis.
Photo by Cliff Owen/AP

VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.

The new Republican majority in Congress really, really doesn't like climate science.

GOP budgeters in the House of Representatives have singled out the study of climate change by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an example of government "waste" they aim to eliminate.

The framework laid out by the House Budget Committee this week lists climate science as an example of "areas where there should be room to cut waste, eliminate redundancies and end the abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars."


David G. Hawkins, director of the climate program at the environmentalist Natural Resources Defense Council, called the swipe at climate science "stupid but not surprising."

"It's just a political stunt for these people," Hawkins told VICE News. "Because they are so locked into denial on the issue of climate protection, they think it's politically easy to identify these activities to cut," he said. "It's very unwise, and most of the time the people who are sponsoring these cuts are the ones who say we ought to listen to our military leaders."

Representative Tom Price, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

The idea that the buildup of carbon emissions in the atmosphere is warming the planet may remain politically controversial, but it's accepted as fact by an overwhelming majority of scientists. And generals and admirals — hardly your typical tree-huggers — see trouble in a future of rising oceans, stronger storms, and prolonged drought.

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

In a 2014 strategy document, the Pentagon called climate change "a significant challenge for the United States" and said its expected effects were "threat multipliers" that will worsen conditions in already volatile regions.

For instance, a recent scientific study argued that a five-year drought in Syria displaced 1.5 million farmers from the countryside, fueling unemployment in the cities, and adding more tinder to the smoldering discontent that erupted into open revolt in 2011.


"Climate change is really a cross-cutting issue," Andrew Holland, a senior fellow at the American Security Project, told VICE News. "You can't look at water security issues without talking about the impact of climate change. You can't even talk about a lot of security issues around the world without how water is related to that, and how climate change is related to that."

He added: "To prohibit [the Department of Defense] from doing work on climate change is taking an element of reality out of their planning process."

The GOP budget resolution will have little direct impact. There's no single line item in either department's budget for climate research, and there's no specific legislative language in the resolution preventing research, Holland said. Any explicit prohibition on climate studies would likely be threatened with a presidential veto.

But taking this sort of swing at the subject is a shot across the bow of the national security bureaucracy, warning them away from raising the subject, he said.

"I think they just frankly don't like that his sort of messaging is coming out of the DOD and the intelligence community, and they're trying to silence it," Holland told VICE News.

Related: Climate change is likely a cause of the civil war in Syria, researchers say

The House isn't alone: On the other side of the Capitol, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — a potential GOP presidential contender — has come out swinging against NASA's science budget.


Cruz is the chairman of a Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees the space agency. In budget hearing last week, he complained about "a disproportionate increase" in spending on its Earth science division, where most NASA's climate research is housed.

Cruz said his panel's job would be "to refocus NASA's energies on its core priority of exploring space." NASA Administrator Charles Bolden replied that it will be hard to launch rockets if his primary launch facility, Florida's low-lying Kennedy Space Center, is under water.

In January, senators voted almost unanimously for a resolution acknowledging that climate change "is real and not a hoax" — but avoided any mention of a cause. The sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, told VICE News that he trusts the judgment of military leaders "who agree that climate change affects our national security."

"To keep our country safe, our national security leaders must anticipate and prepare for these changes," Whitehouse said. "Restricting their ability to do so, just because you don't like the issue, is irresponsible."

Whitehouse's measure was so broad that it had the support of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Climate Change Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

Since Republicans took over the Senate in January, Inhofe has been the chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. A month after that vote, he tossed a snowball onto the Senate floor in an effort to demonstrate that Washington's latest snowstorm proved there was no such thing — a move President Barack Obama called "disturbing" in a recent interview with VICE News.

Related: President Obama speaks with VICE News

Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl