This story was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of the UNO Magazine
Scientists predict that the Earth could face as much as a four-degree Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures across the board by 2100 if there is no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat from the sun.
While the next century may seem far away, the impact is already being felt in the United States with regards to domestic policy, international diplomacy, and national security efforts.
'When it comes down to it, domestic policy is about energy choices and how we get our energy," says Beth Chalecki, UNO assistant professor of political science. "There's always winners and losers when you have a big infrastructure change like what would be needed if we moved from fossil fuels to renewable energy and from carbon-based energy to non-carbon-based energy. Those in power are the carbon lobby and they don't want to be out of power."
In 2016, the United States under President Barack Obama joined 194 other nations in setting standards to reduce carbon emissions. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump removed the United States from the agreement, citing economic costs and an impact on jobs in the energy sector.
The move is something Chalecki says will have ramifications for U.S. relationships with other countries beyond the environment.
"We have, over the course of our history, been pretty respectable leaders when it comes to environmental issues, but this abdication of our shared responsibility is going to affect the United States' position on many issues—not just climate and energy but national security, terrorism, refugees, public health, all of the things that we depend on cooperation from other nations."
Michelle Black, also an assistant professor in the UNO’s Department of Political Science, has experienced the importance of these relationships in her previous roles as a psychological operations analyst for the military, a defense contractor for Booz Allen and a government civilian for the Department of Defense analyzing decisions being made by U.S. adversaries.
"We've invested a lot on those alliances, we've invested a lot over the years, and right now I see them as being fragile," she says. "That is not where you want to be as a world leader because that will cause a shift in a lot of things."
One main area of concern for Black is in the Arctic, where Russia has been investing in military bases.
"Here we are dealing with a strategic position that different countries claim that they own and now, with the melting, this could be a different strategic position that the U.S. is going to have to worry about. Not only because we are literally changing forms of land, but now it’s a strategic position, too, for other countries, and that impacts our national security."
Chalecki adds that global climate change will impact security within U.S. borders, too.
"You're going to see more storms, you're going to see more floods, you are going to see sea levels rise, which means shoreline erosion, inundation of coastal properties and coastal aquifers. Infrastructure is going to be affected. You are going to see more public health threats, because as the temperature gets warmer and wetter in some places, mosquito vectors begin to increase, their range expands, so you'll see mosquito-borne diseases in places where you haven't seen them before," she says. "There is no such thing as an ecologically or environmentally sovereign country."
In the end, both Chalecki and Black say affecting environmental change—and all the ramifications it has for national security—boils down to influencing policy and policymakers.
"I do give credit to the defense organizations for when they are asked to go produce documents and strategy, but it is very hard for them," Black says. "They can provide the advice do the decision maker but they can't do anything further than that. The military is going to do whatever the policy makers tell them to do. You have to ask, what can you do or what can you lobby for, rather than just looking at it abstractly."
Adds Chalecki: "Nations have to put concerted time and effort to domestic policy expertise as it relates to security that won't bear fruit for five or 10 years, but you just don't see that anymore, and I think that’s where we've let the policymakers dictate the direction of the public’s attention. Policymakers aren't leaders; they are followers. Politicians are followers and we need to tell them what we want."
This article appeared in the UNO Magazine - the flagship publication of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, for alumni, faculty, staff, students, donors and friends of UNO.
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