The dangers of climate change

By: Marcus Dieterle, Editor-in-Chief 

Hey, Towson! After a bit of a hiatus and a change of hands to yours truly (after receiving the blessing of former editor-in-chief and this column’s founder Cody Boteler), Climate Corner is back in business.

For the first edition of this reboot, we’re diving straight into the threat that climate change poses to the United States’ national security and, really, global security. Earlier this month, over 100 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to President Donald Trump in which they expressed their concern with the president’s omission of climate change among threats to the United States from his first National Security Strategy report.

In December 2017, the Trump administration released the president’s National Security Strategy in which the words “climate change” did not appear once. This breaks from President Barack Obama’s last National Security Strategy report in 2015 in which Obama outlined the United States’ efforts to combat climate change as part of national security policy. Instead, Trump’s report emphasized the pursuit of economic and military growth.

The havoc that climate change could wreak on national security is twofold. First, environmental issues can weaken our own nation, making us more susceptible to external threats. Second, climate change can destabilize other countries and increase the potential for unrest abroad. These issues will be felt first by marginalized communities and our most vulnerable populations, so it’s important that we don’t gloss over climate change as a real and dangerous threat.

Here are three ways that climate change will/already is negatively impacting the security of the United States:

  1. Displacement, destruction and death due to flooding: Hurricanes typically form in warm tropical oceans. Warm ocean water evaporates and water vapor carries that heat upwards and towards the eye of the developing hurricane. On the water’s surface, air rushes in to fill the space left by the water vapor, creating a spiral motion. After passing through the eye, water vapor flows outwards to form clouds which also begin to spiral until they travel fast enough to create a hurricane. 2017 saw a series of torrential hurricanes that devastated communities in Puerto Rico and along the Gulf Coast. Fleeing natural disasters is expensive. Displaced people must be able to gather their loved ones and belongings, transport themselves to a safe location, and pay for hotel costs or other living situations if they are unable to stay with friends or family. And all that is dependent on people actually having to leave in the first place. From Harvey to Maria, we saw hurricanes ravage communities, particularly low-income people, people of color and disabled people who often did not have the resources to leave their homes. With sea levels rising and oceans getting hotter due to global warming, we can expect to see more extreme climate events – both in size and severity.
  2. Educational inequity: Extreme temperature changes can hit especially hard against schools without proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Without those systems, schools often have just two options: force students to sit in sweltering classrooms for seven hours a day or close the school and send students home, neither of which is conducive to learning. When such an issue becomes chronic, the students within those schools are put at a grave disadvantage to their peers at other schools. An educated population is the basis for any strong citizenry. If Trump is concerned with growing the United States’ economy, he might look first to the environmental issues that are holding back talented students from lifelong success.
  3. Decreased biodiversity: There are 950 plant species and 1457 animal species on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s lists of endangered species. Among those is Towson’s very own mascot, the tiger! As humans destroy habitats and ecosystems through practices such as deforestation, overconsumption and pollution, the planet is becoming less biologically diverse. This isn’t just about the potential loss of the plants and animals themselves – though that should be cause to worry on its own – but it’s also about the loss of hundreds of species who make humans lives easier and better just by existing. For instance, the rusty patched bumble bee was moved to the endangered species list one year ago. This particular bee species is a significant pollinator throughout North America. The rusty patched bumble bee visits at least 65 plant genera including cranberries, plums, apples, alfalfa and onions. There are species like this all across the world, species whose absence could have a dramatic effect on our environment, our agriculture, our economy and our basic way of life should they become extinct.

Climate change may not be nuclear weaponry or potential foreign electoral meddling, but it is a real and serious issue. To downplay it isn’t just naive; it’s dangerous. We have to deal with the roots of climate change before it’s too late. We have to deal with ourselves.

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