U.S. Intel Chief: Climate Change Is Adding Fuel to the World's Extremist Fires

Oil wells burn after Iraqi ground forces supported by U.S.-led coalition airpower take back the town of Qaraya from the Islamic State. Oil wells burn after Iraqi ground forces supported by U.S.-led coalition airpower take back the town of Qaraya from the Islamic State. Susannah George / AP

Here’s the latest missive on climate change from America's national security leaders: You could suppress ISIS and solve Syria, but extremist groups and regional conflicts will keep popping up in an unstable future exacerbated by a warming Earth and extreme weather events.

So said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, giving an overview of global threats as he opened an annual intelligence community conference in D.C. on Wednesday. Increased competition for “ever-diminishing food and water resources” will amplify socio-economically motivated armed conflicts, countries’ difficulties controlling their borders, and instability more generally, he said.

“I think climate change is going to be an underpinning for a lot of national security issues,” Clapper said. It affects “so many things: the availability of basics like water and food and other resources which are continually going to become matters of conflict, and already are, between and among countries.”

The Pentagon has been getting increasingly serious about preparing for it, warning that warming global temperatures and extreme weather events would act as a “threat multiplier” and foster terrorism. Earlier this year, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work ordered the military to adapt current and future operations to address climate change.

Clapper echoed this warning. Climate change-driven instability and other factors mean that “after ISIL is gone, you can expect some other terrorist entity to arise, and the cycle of extremism [to] continue for the foreseeable future.”

Americans as a whole are increasingly concerned about global warming as well, according to Gallup polls. The share of the population worried a fair amount or great deal about climate change more broadly increased from 2015 to 2016, regardless of the individual’s political affiliation.

The House of Representatives, however, would rather the military concentrate solely on what Rep. John Fleming, R-La., called “real, credible threats,” like the Islamic State, Russia and Iran. For the third year in a row, its version of the National Defense Authorization Act included an amendment, passed largely along party lines, that prohibited using funds to implement executive orders directing the military to plan for climate change.

“These executive orders require the Department of Defense to squander—squander—precious defense dollars by incorporating climate change bureaucracies into its acquisition and military operations and to waste money on green energy projects,” Fleming said in a floor speech proposing the amendment.

That, and other battles over the NDAA, will have to be hashed out in conference between the House and Senate, but not anytime soon: three to six months, depending on how the continuing resolution fight shakes out.

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