That's unfortunate -- both for the GOP and for America. While the GOP has traditionally held an electoral advantage on national-security issues -- something that apparently will not be the case in this year's election -- its stance on environmental issues also could have a decidedly negative impact on American national security.
Climate change denialism remains a powerful current within the Republican party, and is a stance honored by most of the candidates who sought this year's GOP presidential nomination. Though Romney argued for reductions in carbon emissions when he governed Massachusetts, he changed his tune on the campaign trail. He said at one point that he thought the world was getting hotter, but added, "I don't know that, but I think that it is." As to human contributions, Romney allowed, "It could be a little. It could be a lot." On another occasion, Romney stated outright, "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet."
Meanwhile, the evidence that climate change is a real and pressing problem continues to mount. Not only do heat records continue to fall, but
the extreme weather events that we have seen with increasing regularity further
underscore the problem. As James Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute
for Space Studies, wrote recently about a new analysis he conducted of six decades of temperature data, "our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change." Events that can be attributed to climate change, according to his research, include the deadly heat wave that gripped Europe in 2003, the heat wave that rocked Russia in 2010 and caused spontaneous fires, and the droughts that have hit Texas and Oklahoma.
This is not a "soft" issue that should be of concern only to environmentalists. Climate change can be destabilizing in international affairs, a fact that the Department of Defense is now trumpeting. As the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report notes, climate change contributes to food and water scarcity, provoking or exacerbating mass migrations, and amping up conflicts over resources. The report states, "While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world."
We have seen this dynamic at play in recent years. The global food crisis of 2008
was destabilizing, causing unrest in the Middle East, Africa, and South America; and this summer's drought will similarly be felt throughout the world. As Robert Thompson, who studies food security at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, recently said, "What happens to the U.S. supply has an immense impact around the world. If the price of corn rises high enough, it also pulls up the price of wheat. I think we are in for a very serious situation worldwide." The full impact the drought will have throughout the globe remains to be felt, but we can already see world food prices rising.