“You never have 100% certainty. If you wait till you have that, you’ll fail.”
This nugget of wisdom, so readily applicable to so many other subjects, was one of many dropped by retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn when he spoke to me – and 150 other veterans, to boot – at a conclave held by Operation FREE last week in Washington, DC.
Admiral McGinn was talking about climate change and energy dependency as a national security threat. Or more accurately, a national security dilemma.
The evidence, as laid out by Admiral McGinn (and other speakers), is unmistakable. Over the next few decades, America is going to be faced with some hard choices. As the impact of irreversible climate change, due to human activity, increases, you’ll see more conflicts, cold and hot, over resources like water and food. You’ll see more epidemics (thanks to people moving from one place to another in search of the basic necessities of life), you’ll see more deaths (52,000 died in Europe alone during a heat wave two years ago).
In short, life as we know it – for millions of people, including us, will become nastier, more brutish, and perhaps shorter.
You know this already, though. So why am I, of all people, telling you this?
Five years ago, I helped pay the piper. I woke up each morning, dusted the fine desert dust (calling it sand would’ve been far too generous a compliment) as best I could from my clothes and trudged in to work.
I was at the proverbial tip of the spear in Balad, Iraq.
I’m not going to engage in a prolonged disquisition of why I spent my 27th birthday in Iraq, among other days.
Suffice it to say, though, that the fact that Iraq has plenty of crude oil simmering and bubbling under its fine-grain sands had *something* to do with it.
Denying this is pointless; we’re not rushing into Sudan, despite the equally horrific, if not more so, humanitarian crisis there.
Acknowledging the fact that our need, our gnawing desire for cheap energy causes us to pay attention to what happens in the Middle East doesn’t cheapen the sacrifice of my fellow servicemembers, and it doesn’t attenuate the nature of my service.
It merely places it in a richer context. Our national energy posture is a serious and urgent problem – economically (where can we find cheap resources?), diplomatically (we’ll have to negotiate for them!), and militarily (hello, countless tours to the Middle East!).
That’s why I’m writing today about climate change. This issue isn’t the sole domain of retired Vice Presidents and soulful hikers wearing Tevas; it’s an honest-to-goodness national security issue.
Our quality of life, for better or worse, depends on coming to a resolution on this.
“The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do.”
Barack Obama spoke these words last Wednesday night, when I was sitting down to break bread with my sisters and brothers in arms. He was talking about health care reform.
He could say the same about climate change.
Now is the season for action. The carefree seasons where we could entertain the self-interested fiction that this cup would pass from our lips have passed.
The rapidly changing nature of our climate; the sheer magnitude of the threat before us demands your attention. If you won’t pay attention to those that have come before me, will you at least pay heed to me?
The price we’re bound to pay – in treasure, and yes, in the lives of our uniformed services – is far too dear. We can change. We can scale the heights. We’ve done it before, we will do it again.
We will do it, that is, if we change our course and pay heed to what I and others who are far too familiar with the wages of war have to say on this.
We cannot afford our current course. We can, and must change. Doing so will result in security and wealth for our country. Our current course can only end in failure and ruin.