This post is cross-posted on the Operation Free blog.
When Pakistan drowned under record floods this past August, terrorist organizations were quick to capitalize on the tragedy. The flood “…killed more than 1,500 people, displaced at least 12 million, and left 20% of the country under water.” Militant groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniyat set up aid stations, distributed food and tents, and generally leveraged their quick reaction into an effective recruitment effort. Both organizations operate as more palatable fronts for the violent Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 terrorist assault in Mumbai. Militant madrasas tied to the Taliban earned praise from local residents as “angels” for their charitable work.
The residents of Pakistan’s more lawless areas were already sour on the government in Lahore before the floods. Their government’s sloppy handling of the relief efforts didn’t do anything to encourage them otherwise. The flood may have created a more militant, more violent, and more willing recruitment ground for armed groups in the region.
Make no mistake, the price of Pakistan’s ineptitude will be paid in the lives of American troops as newly recruited, highly motivated fighters replace those our soldiers kill or capture in Afghanistan. Our own military touts the importance of winning “hearts and minds” – after the Pakistan floods, our enemies won many, many hearts and minds.
The Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledges that fragile governments in developing nations will be further destabilized by severe, destructive weather events tied to global climate change. Nations without stable governments foster the perfect environments for extremist ideologies to take root. In 2008, the US Navy’s National Defense Univeristy studied the potential impact of a large-scale flood in Bangladesh. The predicted result: “Hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, [spreading] contagious diseases and [causing] vast damage to infrastructure.”
The symptoms are easy to see at work across the globe today. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa fall prey to desertification and descend into violence. Soviet-built reservoirs in Central Asia dry up forever as residents clash over water rights. South Korea recently purchased 3.2 billion acres of Madagascan farmland, preparing for a time when coastal arable land is rendered unusable.
When signs of climate change are this visible, and the CIA and DoD factor climate change into wargaming scenarios as a current threat, it is time to take a hard look at legislators who think that stripping the EPA of its funding and authority is a good idea. Enforcing the Clean Air Act, regulating carbon emissions and weaning ourselves off of the teat of petroleum are just a few ways to keep our nation secure in the long-term. Unfortunately, long-term thinking is difficult for members of Congress whose primary donors think only of the next quarter’s bottom line as their shareholders bleat for more profits.
Environmental organizations here in the United States can offer up plenty of reasons why a strong EPA is important to our quality of life, but their messages seem threadbare in a Post-9/11 era. Only one group, an organization of military veterans called Operation Free, speaks in terms of how our flawed environmental policies damage our national security. The voices of veterans who saw firsthand how our environmental and energy policies threaten the safety of our citizens and our interests is hard to ignore, even for those members of Congress who operate as wholly-owned subsidiaries of our worst polluters. Operation Free’s message is simple and clear: Climate change is a real, tangible force-multiplier for our enemies abroad, and reacting to its effects will stretch our military thin, leaving us less secure.
The US military will always be ready to fight our enemies, wherever they hide. But military deployment in response to preventable environmental degradation is just an extremely expensive band-aid. The EPA can, through competent and fully funded regulatory power, reduce the impact of our carbon-based economy on the planet. It is our first line of defense against a kind of instability and strife that is already happening and, without timely intervention, will only become more extreme.
Congress’s efforts to destroy the EPA at the behest of their donors stands as an example of the short-term, cowardly thinking that Americans hate to see in their government.