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Cattle killed by drought, Ethiopia. (Photo: Oxfam International/flickr/cc)

Climate Change and the Coming 'Humanitarian Crisis of Epic Proportions'

Military and national security experts are sounding the alarm about tens of millions of climate refugees

Deirdre Fulton

Climate change—and resultant natural disasters, droughts, and sea level rise—"could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions," senior military figures told the Guardian on Thursday.

Specifically, the experts echoed a recent warning from the United Nations that without radical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, "we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy," as the number of global climate refugees climbs.

"We're going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people," Maj. Gen. Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh, told the Guardian.

"Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions," added Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, a member of the U.S. State Department's foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project. "We're already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity, and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal."

Such a crisis would serve "as an accelerant of instability," Cheney said—even more so than it has already.

As Forbes explained on Tuesday:

Natural disasters displaced 36 million people in 2009, the year of the last full study. Of those, 20 million moved because of climate-change related factors. Scientists predict natural disaster-related refugees to increase to as many as 50 to 200 million in 2050. This will cause increasing social stress and violence, mostly in developing nations without the resources to cope, such as in poorer coastal countries in Asia, and in regions of Africa subject to desertification.

Dozens of military and national security experts, including former advisers to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, issued a similar admonition in September, in the form of a Briefing Book for A New Administration (pdf) that warned of "the potential for ongoing climatic shifts to contribute to near and/or over-the-horizon instances of instability," including mass migration.

But it's not clear these words of caution will be absorbed or acted on by the incoming Trump administration.

As Scientific American pointed out this week, "[t]he military and intelligence communities may soon turn a blinder eye toward some climate change-related threats, indicated by President-Elect Donald Trump's recent choices of climate-change skeptics for national security jobs, along with his own dismissive comments."

With climate skeptics like Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) nominated for high-profile national security positions, University of Texas at Austin professor Joshua Busby told the magazine, "some of the gains made by the Pentagon and other executive agencies to prepare for the security consequences of climate change could be undone."


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