Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement: A Veteran’s Perspective

Early in the summer of 2003, as we made our initial push from the Kuwaiti border up through central Iraq and then on into Anbar Province, our armored cavalry unit was not meeting the resistance we’d expected and so we were able to move much more quickly. We were outpacing our supplies by days, and as we continued, it seemed we were burning through fuel and water faster than anticipated. More concerning, there was no potable water nearby. When U.S. troops did attempt to use locally sourced water it would make them sick, so all of the water for drinking and bathing had to be trucked in. This meant more convoys on the road, moving along our main supply routes in incredibly dangerous territory. My platoon was one of two units from the base at the time responsible security and route reconnaissance along those roads at night. Convoys were already prime targets for attack and, out of sheer need we were forced to place more trucks along the road, traveling great distances. Logistics – “the bullet and beans” of modern warfare – are what enable soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to fight. Reducing that logistics footprint – and decreasing the military’s demand for fuel – has a direct and positive impact on the safety of U.S. troops.

Tens of thousands of officers and enlisted men and women learned this lesson firsthand over the last 15 years, and that helps explain why the U.S. military has become one of the strongest voices on climate change. It’s also why President Donald Trump’s decision last week to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement flies directly in the face of the Defense Department’s position that climate change is a “threat multiplier.”

The Paris Climate Agreement was hailed as a major step forward in the fight against climate change when it was unanimously adopted in 2015. Each of the more than 200 countries that signed on—whether they were large or small, developing or developed—submitted an individualized plan to cut their carbon emissions and do their part to mitigate the increasingly obvious and harmful effects of climate change. To hold each other accountable and continue building on this historic progress, each country also pledged to reconvene every five years, raising their standards over time. 

In the wake of Trump’s choice (encouraged by allies within his administration and in Congress), the U.S. has already lost serious credibility on the world stage. This is not an abstract concept, and in the immediate future, we are likely to face greater obstacles in partnering with others on the pressing military, economic, and diplomatic issues of our time. As a portent of struggles come, China and the European Union are already announcing a new alliance for cleaner energy, while the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, delivered a blistering speech on Trump’s decision, speaking directly to U.S. citizens in English, an unprecedented move.

Meanwhile, China and India continue to outpace the U.S. in green energy investment—but they aren’t the only ones quickly picking up the game. Countries such as Germany have made significant investments in renewable energy as well, reporting in early May that 85 percent of the country’s power is now derived from renewable sources; this, in turn, drastically reduced energy costs for users as supply outpaced demand. It seems that the entire world is learning to save money with years of investment in alternatives to coal and nuclear production. At a time when we are more interconnected than any other in our history, withdrawal from international agreements out of spite do not strengthen our stance but instead serve to isolate us and hinder our growth.

As an Army veteran and proud Southerner, it pains me to think that the beautiful natural landscape I grew up in, trained in, and fought to protect will be altered for future generations. I remember South Carolinian summers spent out in the woods on bike trails or playing basketball on the local courts. And I remember years as a West Point cadet, and later an officer in Colorado Springs, training in hills and mountains of lush, green forests in the warm weather and winter snow and ice. I wonder what this will mean for us in the short term and our children and their children in the long term. Will they have the same opportunities to enjoy the natural environment as we did? Will they know my Carolina summers and Colorado winters? Or will they be faced with drastically changing weather patterns and seasons that seem practically non-existent? But I don’t just oppose climate change for sentimental reasons—in fact, I know there is a human cost to our inaction.

Last week, Trump made a different kind of choice. The cost of his decision may be borne by those serving in the U.S. military. Climate change isn’t merely a scientific fact or an economic challenge, but a national security risk. Longer droughts that cause migration, urbanization, and resource shortages end up further weakening the already fragile states under threat from extremist groups, and increasingly frequent and severe storms do massive damage that require bigger humanitarian responses from the U.S., led by the military. The Department of Defense describes climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it makes the jobs of our men and women in uniform even harder. Certainly, Trump’s decision will make the work of our men and women in uniform more difficult and dangerous.

Taking all of this together— our national security, international credibility and our economic prosperity —it seems obvious that staying in the Paris Climate Agreement, and fighting both for clean energy and to mitigate climate change, is the right path forward. Unfortunately, President Trump has charted a different course—and it may be up to us at the state, corporate, local, and even individual level to make the kinds of choices that will push us towards a safer, wiser vision for the future.

Image: Getty/Joe Raedle

 

About the Author(s)

Bishop Garrison

Interim Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project and Truman Center for National Policy; member of the board at Council for a Livable World; West Point Graduate (2002); served two deployments in Iraq in the Army; served in national security positions in the Obama administration; served as deputy foreign policy adviser on the Clinton campaign. Follow him on Twitter (@BishopGarrison).