Climate Change As An Issue Of National Security Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change a national security threat. Retired Brig. Gen. Gerald Galloway talks about how the Pentagon will manage challenges presented by climate change.

    Environment Story Of The Day NPR hide caption

    toggle caption

Climate Change As An Issue Of National Security

Climate Change As An Issue Of National Security

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change a national security threat. Retired Brig. Gen. Gerald Galloway talks about how the Pentagon will manage challenges presented by climate change.


Last week, ProPublica published excerpts of a testimony by Defense Secretary James Mattis calling climate change a national security threat. In his written statements given in January to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis says climate change is, quote, "impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today." Now questions are circulating about how the Pentagon will manage these challenges presented by climate change, especially as some members of the Trump administration and the president himself have denied its impact. With us to discuss this growing topic is Brigadier General Gerald Galloway from the Center for Climate and Security. He's also a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. Welcome, sir.

GERALD GALLOWAY: Well, thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, General. You were in the army for, I think, 38 years.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's long time. And your focus was - correct me if I'm wrong - water resource management.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: From that perspective, what environmental challenges do you see the military facing today?

GALLOWAY: Well, there's all sorts of them. The military, of course, has a battlefield on which they're going to fight. That battlefield is in constant change. It is right now, but it will be under considerably more change under climate change. We already know, for example, that we have more intense rainfall events. We expect to see - the rivers will flow with greater volume, and that will cause problems for river crossings. We see there are problems in the seas. The storms are more intense. We'll have more frequent storms - all of the sorts of things that make uncertainty reality on the battlefield.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'd like to talk about the word national security threat. You've talked about planning. Everyone understands that the military has to plan for certain events, but why is it a national security threat?

GALLOWAY: If you can't get your aircraft off an airfield because it's under water, if you can't land troops in a foreign country because the beach you thought was going to be something you could land on is no longer there, then it's a national security issue. If our allies are having problems in their own country as a result of such things as drought - where there's instability in the country - instability breeds conflict. And conflict is what puts our forces at risk, and we don't want that to happen. So we've got to be prepared for this, and we've got to be prepared to assist at home and abroad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk about the measures released last week by the Trump administration in the budget - cuts to almost every single climate change initiative in multiple departments and agencies. I'm going to list a few. The EPA's climate programs would be ended, possibly in their entirety. The Department of Energy's programs would be scaled back. NASA's Earth monitoring programs also potentially gone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, would also be hit. Are you concerned?

GALLOWAY: I certainly am concerned. You can't have one part of the government operating one way and another part operating in a different manner. So in this particular case, we have to rely on many things that NASA provides, that NOAA provides, and it's important that they be continued.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've been discussing climate change for a long time in this country. How urgent do you see the problem at this point in time?

GALLOWAY: Well, I think it's urgent that we get a glide path to where we're going. Certainly, when somebody says in 2080, this is going to be the sea level, or we're going to have storms of this nature, we're not going to go tomorrow to start building something for that. But we know that in 2030, there's going to be a problem. Or right now at Annapolis, just down the river from us, we have a problem with water rising into the city and into the Naval Academy. We have to deal with that now.

So we need to know what the risk is nationwide. We need to know the risk overseas, what it's going to take to deal with that on a stage basis over time. We need to be doing the things now that'll let it be operational for the next 10 years and put into the plan for the following 10 years. So it's taken a lot of effort.

But I will tell you the Defense Department has been a leader since 2003 in dealing with these issues, identifying what they are, coming to the Congress and saying, we need to work in this direction. And if we do this, we think we can be prepared for it. Now, if that's pushed off the plate, that's a different issue, but I don't see someone who is told this is a national security issue saying, no, don't do that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: General Gerald Galloway, thank you so much for being with us.

GALLOWAY: My pleasure.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.