It's been a long time coming, but small signs of bipartisan agreement on climate change have emerged in the U.S. Congress. Whether they are just blips on the screen or the beginning of the end of Republican resistance to climate action remains to be seen, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Back in January the leading journal Scientific American reported that in his unpublished testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis positioned climate change as here-and-now fact that demands immediate action, not merely an issue of concern for future action:
"Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today," Mattis said in written answers to questions posed after the public hearing by Democratic members of the committee. "It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning."
Those concerns coalesced during the administration of Republican president George W. Bush and ratcheted up under Democratic president Barak Obama's administration, when the Department of Defense began to include climate change in an important planning tool, the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The Executive Summary of the 2014 QDR provides an overview of DoD's concerns and its courses of action:
The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities. Our actions to increase energy and water security, including investments in energy efficiency, new technologies, and renewable energy sources, will increase the resiliency of our installations and help mitigate these effects.
Though Bilden appears to have no record of climate change denial, the billionaire investor's position on climate change was an open question.
The Union of Concerned Scientists did spot one hint: Both of Bilden's sons served under former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who was a fierce and eloquent advocate for climate action.
Bilden's ability to have an impact on climate policy became a moot point, though, when he withdrew his nomination due to difficulties in separating from his business interests.
That left the field open for a new nominee for Navy Secretary, businessman Richard V. Spencer.
As reported in The Hill, Spencer made his position on climate change clear during his nomination hearing last week:
“The Navy is totally aware of rising water issues, storm issues, etc.” nominee Richard V. Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“We must protect our infrastructure, and I will work hard to make sure we are keeping an eye on that because without the infrastructure, we lose readiness.”
In particular, Spencer became a member of the Defense Business Board during the Obama administration and he currently sits on the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel, where he is in a good position to keep abreast of climate impacts affecting national defense.
In addition, Spencer is an advisor to the Center for a New American Security, a bipartisan think tank and leadership training organization established in 2007 with this mission:
CNAS engages policymakers, experts, and the public with innovative, fact-based research, ideas, and analysis to shape and elevate the national security debate. A key part of our mission is to inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.
Climate change cannot be ignored, and national leaders must directly address this topic through a focus on research, development, and deployment of new energy technologies.
So far it looks like Spencer is on track for confirmation. Last week he cleared the committee hearing, which U.S. Naval Institute News described as "largely congenial," with bipartisan support.
The next step is a vote by the full Senate, which has yet to be scheduled.
The NDAA required a study of the impacts of climate change on military facilities over the next 20 years, but Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry had other ideas. He introduced an amendment that would strip out the study:
Perry said his amendment was not meant to debate the existence of climate change, but rather, “my point is that this should not be the priority" for the military.
Some Republicans who voted against the amendment contradicted Perry's claim that climate change "should not be a priority for the military."
The Hill cited Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY):
The effects of climate change “are drivers of geopolitical instability and degrade the security of the United States,” Stefanik said.
“We would be remiss in our efforts to protect our national security to not fully account for the risk climate change poses to our bases, our readiness and to the fulfillment of our armed services mission.”
DoD has an expansive role in climate action that includes funding foundational research on clean technology as well as investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, working to promote energy awareness within its ranks, and providing veterans with job opportunities in clean energy fields.
In all of these endeavors DoD has a willing partner in the Department of Energy.
Despite the pro-coal rhetoric of the Trump Administration, Energy Secretary and former Texas Governor Rick Perry has enabled his agency to continue building on Obama-era policies promoting wind, solar and other renewables.
The Energy Department's relationship with the defense community gained strength earlier this year, when national security advisor H.R. McMaster reshuffled the National Security Council to provide Perry with a seat at the same table shared by James Mattis.
Aside from reflecting the Energy Department's leading role in managing the nation's nuclear resources, the move provides for the mutual reinforcement of energy policies that respond to climate change.
Unwittingly or not, President Trump himself also appears to be suggesting that national security is a safe space in which Republicans can support action on climate change and its corollary, renewable energy.
Last week, Trump apparently gave French President Emmanuel Macron the idea that he was receptive to addressing climate change in the context of the global fight against terrorism.
Image (screenshot): US Department of Energy.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.