The White House released Sept. 21 a new presidential memorandum that orders federal agencies — including the Pentagon and CIA — to devote its defense and intelligence resources to fighting the impact of global warming.
The Obama administration order comes on the heels of a recent report from an environmental group that climate change is a significant and growing threat to national security.
"Climate change and associated impacts on U.S. military and other national security-related missions and operations could adversely affect readiness, negatively affect military facilities and training, increase demands for Federal support to non-federal civil authorities, and increase response requirements to support international stability and humanitarian assistance needs," Obama wrote. "The United States must take a comprehensive approach to identifying and acting on climate change-related impacts on national security interests, including by maintaining its international leadership on climate issues."
Mitchell Zuckoff, an author embedded with the Joint Recovery Mission - Greenland, signals to helicopter pilot Tom Andreassen, of Air Greenland, where to land near the nunatak on a glacier near Koge Bay, Greenland, Aug. 16, 2013. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.)
So what could the order mean for American troops and intelligence operators?
The military has faced several years of budget cuts, and several major programs, like the littoral combat ship, the Zumwalt-class destroyers, and the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers, are having some real problems. The F-35 Lightning II is also having its teething problems (albeit those are resolving themselves).
A briefing document issued alongside the memorandum added that climate change is more of a threat to American security than cyber attacks or terrorism.
"For all the challenges and threats we face as a nation — from terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda to increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks, from diseases like Ebola and Zika to Russian aggression in Ukraine — no threat is more terrifying in its global reach or more potentially destructive and destabilizing than climate change," the memorandum said.
Despite painting the grim picture, the briefing, conducted by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Senior Advisor Brian Deese ended on a hopeful note.
"Just as we work to defeat any adversary before they have the ability to attack, we must similarly prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change," the briefing document says.
The move has drawn criticism from some. Elaine Donnelly, President of the Center for Military Readiness, said that the briefing document "reflects delusional group-think substituting for sound policy in the White House and Pentagon."
"Preparations for bad weather and extreme events such as hurricanes are always prudent, but normal and even abnormal seasonal changes cannot be compared to deliberate attacks from armed human adversaries," she said. "Furthermore, there is no way that our government or other governments can 'mitigate' dangerous weather, or even normal weather. It is unsettling to see high-level officials in the White House buying into narratives such as this."
Alternate energy projects have been a priority in the Department of the Navy since President Obama took office in 2009. A Washington Free Beacon report last month noted that three of the major projects pushed by Navy Sec. Ray Mabus had not been cost-effective.
Donnelly also expressed concern that "the two documents appear to authorize a power grab on the part of unelected officials who would use 'national security' as an excuse to act upon unsupported theories of climate change."