The most charitable thing that can be said about Barack Obama’s graduation address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is that it was silly.
At a time when Islamic militants are rampaging all over the Middle East, in no small part due to Obama’s incompetent military and foreign policy decisionmaking, and in the same week that the cities of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria fell to Islamic State savages, Obama chose to tell the graduating cadets that its climate change that poses “an immediate risk to our national security” and constitutes a challenge that “perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire careers…”
Just what does Obama expect the Coast Guard can do about climate change — sail a cutter up the Yangtze River blasting away at any Chinese coal-fired power plants that might show themselves?
If Obama seriously thinks climate change is a more urgent threat to national security than the Islamic State, al Qaida, al Nusra, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, the Houtis, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Putin in Ukraine or the escalating China-Japan confrontation in the South China Sea, his judgment is so profoundly haywire that Congress should consider invoking the 25th Amendment (that’s the one dealing with presidential disability) and replace him with Joe Biden.
(Yeah, that bad.)
Of course, it’s highly doubtful Obama really believes climate change seriously. If he genuinely believes climate change is the country’s most urgent national security threat, why hasn’t he:
Asked Congress to pass a crash program to replace all the coal-fired power plants in the United States with nuclear plants and, to the extent possible, wind and solar generating capacity?
Made rebuilding the nation’s electrical grid a national priority?
Called for building a national network of desalination plants to prepare for the drought conditions that climate change is expected to create — and which he suggested in his speech are happening right now?
Proposed federal funding for a system of dams, dykes and sea-walls to protect low-lying coastal cities full of Democrats that are vulnerable to sea level rise?
Used the bully pulpit to encourage the introduction of genetically modified crops that are heat and drought tolerant?
If climate change is the most urgent threat to national security, all of these steps would be obvious.
Still, Obama was on to something when he tried to link climate change to national security.
American presidents have been making the case for public works projects and social programs in terms of national security since the New Deal. The list includes federal aid to higher education (The National Defense Education Act of 1958), the Interstate Highway System (The National Defense Highway Act of 1955), The Tennessee Valley Authority (the electricity was needed for defense plants in case of war), the School Lunch Program (Truman started it because so many men flunked their draft physicals due to malnutrition), the Peace Corps and the space program, among others.
Notice that in all of the above examples the link is between national security and the solution to a national security problem, not to the problem itself.
Obama made a mistake here. In linking “national security” to “climate change,” he linked national security to the problem, not to the solutions to the problem. Americans are a lot more impressed by a President’s solutions than by his problem-identification skills.
What Obama should have done is make the link not between “national security” and “climate change,” but between national security and the carbon-free technologies that will be used to combat climate change.
In fact, he needn’t have mentioned climate change at all.
There is a very compelling national security argument for the deployment of solar and wind energy systems and for a much more decentralized electricity production and distribution system without ever uttering the words “climate change.”
Big, centralized power plants and regional scale grids are sitting ducks for enemy attack by terrorism, conventional sabotage, cyber sabotage and attacks with electromagnetic pulse weapons. The last affect whole regions of the country and frog march tens of millions of Americans back into the good old days.
Decentralizing a substantial part of the country’s generating capacity — by installing it on millions of rooftops and on tens of thousands of wind turbine towers and distributing power through community scale micro-grids could limit the damage and speed the recovery.
Americans aren’t going to spend a lot of money chasing the chimera of preventing climate change or trying to undo it; the latter will take at least 200 years to produce noticeable change. However, Americans are willing to undertake mega-projects in the name of national defense, especially if those projects produce immediately tangible and noticeable results. And they will willingly pay a premium for technologies that can be shown to contribute to national security — and if those technologies reduce the country’s carbon foot-print in the bargain, well so much the better.