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The New West: Cheney’s views on climate clash with the US military

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CREDIT: David J Swift

By Todd Wilkinson EBS Environmental Columnist

In just nine words spoken last week on Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming offered another revealing window into how she interprets the world.

The Equality State’s lone member of Congress, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, opposed an amendment, attached to a defense-spending bill, that would have required the Pentagon to compile an annual report on national security threats posed by climate change.

Before casting her vote to defeat the amendment, drafted by Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin, Cheney, a part-time resident of Wilson, Wyoming, on the edge of the Tetons, declared “there is no evidence that climate change causes war.”

Cheney’s conclusion would be perfectly logical if it wasn’t so thoroughly contradicted by reality.

Her claim conveniently ignores the record of human history and current world events. It reveals her inability to grasp cause-and-effect, including her willful ongoing denial of scientific evidence showing that the burning of fossil fuels by humans is generally warming the planet. Third, and maybe most telling, Cheney’s opinions stand in sharp contrast with those of top U.S. military commanders going back 25 years.

On the latter, the Congresswoman’s assertion stands squarely at odds with the thinking of retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who made the following observation during his Senate confirmation hearings to become President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense. “Climate change can be a driver of instability,” Mattis said, “and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

For years, dating back to the George H.W. Bush administration, senior leadership within the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines has collaborated with scientific experts from several federal agencies to examine the consequences of climate change as a serious ongoing national security risk.

Climate-related droughts causing water and food shortages heighten human misery and can cause the kind of social instability that leads to terrorism. Rising seas create millions of environmental refugees. Other kinds of climate-related natural disasters can increase outbreaks of deadly diseases spreading to areas of the globe, including North America, where previously they had been absent.

But Cheney isn’t buying it.

If she, as a former member of the U.S. State Department, is being honest in professing her knowledge of global affairs, then clearly she knows the current civil war in Syria and upheaval in expanses of Saharan Africa are owed to water scarcity, famine and unrest caused by drought. Many notable policy experts say this is a manifestation of climate change.

One might also think that in the American West, where the old expression “whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting over” lives large, she would take the expert warnings seriously about coming climate-related water shortfalls.

Wyoming is the fifth-most arid state in the U.S. All one needs to do is examine the map prepared by the University of Wyoming showing the percentage of the state encompassed by varying degrees of drought from 2000 to 2016 and it serves as a wake-up call.

Add computer modeling predicting that much of Wyoming will be hotter and drier in decades to come and it isn’t hard to imagine severe stress placed on agricultural producers, municipalities, outdoor recreation and, of course, wildlife and wild ecosystems.

If Cheney is remotely interested in educating herself on the link between environment, climate and human conflict, she could start this summer by reading a couple of primers on how those factors have shaped civilization: Jared Diamond’s award-winning tomes, “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.”

If that isn’t enough, she can pick up a copy of a memorandum titled “Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate Change” prepared by the National Intelligence Council and released in September 2016.

“Climate change is projected to produce more intense and frequent extreme weather events, multiple weather disturbances, along with broader climatological effects, such as sea level rise. These are almost certain to have significant direct and indirect social, economic, political, and security implications during the next 20 years,” the report states.

“These effects will be especially pronounced as populations continue to concentrate in climate-vulnerable locales such as coastal areas, water-stressed regions, and ever-growing cities,” it noted. “These effects are likely to pose significant national security challenges for the United States over the next two decades, though models forecast the most dramatic effects further into the future.”

Given Cheney’s assignment on the House Armed Services Committee, perhaps the best reference point might be the Quadrennial Defense Review prepared by the Defense Department, which also highlights climate change.

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who oversaw the military’s Central Command, is someone Cheney should call to testify before her committee. “We will pay for this [climate change] one way or another,” Zinni wrote in an analysis. “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives.”

Todd Wilkinson has been writing his award-winning column, The New West, for nearly 30 years. Living in Bozeman, he is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at His profile of Montana politician Max Baucus appears in the summer 2017 issue of Mountain Outlaw and is now on newsstands.

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