Amazingly, tellingly, the last Republican debate included not a single question about one of the most ambitious international agreements in civilized history — the recently concluded Paris accord on climate change. Signed by nearly 200 countries, including the United States, the agreement attempts to moderate a threat to human existence: the warming of the planet.
But there was barely a mention of climate change on that debate stage. Not only didn’t the moderators consider it worthy of a question, but neither did the candidates believe it important enough for sustained comment. Global warming came up only in a couple of asides intended as criticisms of President Obama’s agenda.
The debate was about national security, you say? Well, it They contrasted a promised muscular approach to what they described as the weakness of the president, who is too cowardly or politically correct, in their telling, to even use the right words to describe Islamic jihadists.
Yet, the Pentagon has concluded that climate change represents “immediate risks” to national security. Last year, the nation’s military leaders issued a report — “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” — that says that global warming will “affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation.”
Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, was widely derided after a November Democratic debate in which he said that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” No military analyst or climate scientist has gone so far as to draw a straight line between global warming and the savagery of ISIS.
However, the Pentagon’s report does make clear that climate change will lead to greater instability worldwide: droughts, food shortages, mass migrations, failed states. And those are just the sorts of conditions that breed terrorists.
According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. armed forces will also find their resources strained at home as their troops are likely to be called upon more often for civilian assistance in the wake of natural disasters. There will be more extreme events — more violent storms, more fires, more flooding. And as if that were not enough, some of the military’s combat activities will be compromised; amphibious landings, for example, are likely to be more challenging because of rising oceans, according to the report.
Not that you’d know any of that from listening to the GOP candidates. Most leading Republicans are loath even to acknowledge that climate change is occurring — much less acknowledge that it has any connection to national security. Earlier this month, in fact, presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who heads the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, declared at a hearing on climate change that “for the past 18 years … there has been no significant warming whatsoever.”
Au contraire. According to scientists at NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, 2014 was the warmest year since records were first kept in 1880. “The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record,” NASA said, “with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000.”
The refusal of the modern Republican Party to come to terms with climate change leaves it as the only major political party that doubts the science, the only modern body of flat-Earthers. Conservatives in Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Israel and everywhere else in the democratic world have accepted the scientific consensus.
So, for that matter, has ExxonMobil, which spent decades trying to muddy the waters around climate research. The oil giant may have been forced to acknowledge the facts by increasing legal and economic pressures, but it finally stated the obvious: “We believe the risks of climate change are real, and those risks warrant constructive action by both policymakers and the business community,” ExxonMobil Vice President Ken Cohen said recently. Other major oil companies have also embraced the scientific consensus.
It’s strange that Republicans are peddling fear at every turn, but they refuse to acknowledge an existential threat. Islamic jihadists are troubling, but they don’t come close to the peril represented by a warming planet.
(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) COPYRIGHT 2015 CYNTHIA TUCKER. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL UCLICK
Photo: Ted Cruz arrives onstage before the start of the debate. REUTERS/David Becker.