Climate change: Denying reality is a threat to our nation.

Climate Change Denial Is a Threat to National Security

Climate Change Denial Is a Threat to National Security

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 26 2015 7:30 AM

Climate Change Denial Is a Threat to National Security

Earth melting

Photo by Shutterstock/Barnaby Chambers

First, let me be clear about this reality: Planet Earth is warming because of human activity, because of us, and that is profoundly affecting the climate. There is no honest doubt about this; the overwhelming evidence supports it, so much so that 97 percent of climate scientists agree on it.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

The effects of climate change are profound. We are already seeing more extreme weather, more powerful tropical storms, more wildfires. As the sea level rises, coastal populations are threatened, including military bases.


I have been saying for a long time that climate change is a threat to our national security, and it’s long past time to call out those who would deny this as abetting that threat.

President Obama did just this last week, in a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. My Slate colleague Eric Holthaus wrote all about this, and I strongly urge you to read that article. Obama used words like “negligence” and “dereliction of duty”:

After all, isn’t that the true hallmark of leadership? When you’re on deck, standing your watch, you stay vigilant.  You plan for every contingency. And 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, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. And so, too, with climate change. Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

This sentiment was reinforced in a tweet from the president:


Take a moment and ponder this. The president of the United States of America said that people who deny the reality of climate change are a threat to national security. And he strongly implied that members of Congress who do so are guilty of dereliction of duty.

I agree. And they do so on the basis of what is at best wrong information, and at worst a passel of lies.

The only doubt is manufactured, sole-sourced by the fossil fuel industry. Senators, Congress critters, “think tanks,” sponsored by fossil fuel (and using the same tactics as the tobacco industry)—the doubt they sow is as fake as $3 bill, and just as obvious (and embarrassing). From ridiculous and patently false claims that global warming has slowed, that the world can’t be warming because winter still exists, that (seriously) plants like carbon dioxide so we’re just feeding them; these people’s only purpose is to slow any real progress on fixing the planetary mess we’re in.

And in that way, they are making things far, far worse.


As the latest example, look at an op-ed in Forbes magazine written by Heartland Institute’s James Taylor (yes, that Heartland Institute). Taylor has a history of cherry-picking and distorting results from real climate scientists, and he’s doing the same thing here.

In the op-ed, he claims that global warming has not caused global sea ice retreat. This is a gross distortion of reality. The truth is that in the arctic we’re seeing record low levels of sea ice year after year, including just this year, when in March the North Pole saw the lowest maximum ice extent on record.

Annual Arctic sea ice minima
Arctic sea ice minimum extents since 1979, when satellite measurements were started. This is the 2013 graph that I extended to add 2014's minimum. The blue line is a linear fit to the numbers. Even James Taylor could spot this trend.

Graph by NSIDC

It takes a very twisted view of the world to claim global warming isn’t doing anything to polar ice not two months after that record was broken. And as we know very, very well, Arctic sea ice is on a long, drastic decline that does not show any signs of recovery at all.

But note how Taylor phrases it, using “global” ice. That includes Antarctic sea ice, but as I have written about over and over again, that is really unfair. Antarctic sea ice is very different than at the North Pole; Antarctica is a continent and conditions there are literally polar opposites. The southern sea ice fluctuates quite a bit year to year, and in fact wind-driven snow can be increased by global warming (warmer air can hold more moisture), so glossing over local conditions the way Taylor does is at best misleading.

Antarctic ice loss
Land ice loss from Antartcica from 2002–2009. Note the scale of the graph on the left: It's in billions of tons.

Diagram by NASA

That doesn’t sound at all like what Taylor is claiming, does it? I guess he doesn’t know (or doesn’t say) that his corporate sponsors are using the ongoing decrease in arctic ice as a reason to explore more drilling sites in north polar waters.

I’ll also note Taylor links to some satellite data from the University of Illinois Polar Research Group to make his claim … and that same group has issued a rebuttal saying Taylor cherry-picked his data and refutes his claim. Oops.

As much as I loathe what Taylor is doing and saying, I reserve my strongest feelings for people like Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahaoma); my own senator, Cory Gardner (R-Colorado); and virtually all the GOP presidential candidates, who claim with various degrees of head-in-the-sand-ness that humans aren’t causing global warming.


These people have a sworn duty to protect the people of our nation. What they are doing is the exact opposite in every way. They cut NASA’s funding to investigate climate change. They even cut the Pentagon’s funding to act on it. The Pentagon.

head in the sand
"Maybe if I stay this way until 2016 I can get re-elected."

Photo by Shutterstock/alphaspirit

In the medium to long run these politicians are putting us at greater risk from drought, wildfire, extreme weather, and rising sea levels. In the near run they are cruelly crippling our ability to do the kind of research that has made the United States of America a world leader in scientific innovation.

They claim to love this country. But they sure don’t act that way.

I have written about the reality of global warming and the lies of the deniers so often that to list them all would be counterproductive. Instead, here are some highlights that you can use to counter the denial; check links therein to find even more.

… and, of course, always check Skeptical Science when you hear a claim from someone saying global warming isn’t real. The vast, overwhelming amount of the time, that claim is nitrogen-rich.