By Will King, Fort Leavenworth LampJanuary 7, 2010
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Jan. 7, 2010) - An environmental engineer and climate change expert from the Command and General Staff College spoke at an official side event of the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference last month in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Retired Brig. Gen. Dr. Chris King, CGSC dean of academics, spoke at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change side event "Delivering Climate Security: What the security community needs from a global climate regime" at CafAfA A Porta eta 1792 Dec. 17 in Copenhagen. The event was coordinated by E3G, a non-profit organization promoting global transition to sustainable development, and addressed the effects of climate change on national security.
King, a former professor of environmental engineering and head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., said climate change is a major threat to stability and security in the world, and it is important to understand these problems represent a real national security threat and are not just "tree-hugging issues." He said environmental security is about providing life-sustaining conditions to a population, and the biggest concerns today are water scarcity and loss of arable lands.
"Environmental security issues are going to be a growing problem in the world," King said. "Environmental security is the real overarching concern. Changes in ecosystems change the number of people who can be supported by that ecosystem."
He said overpopulation and overcrowding in cities could lead to dramatic problems for countries and militaries if they exceed their carrying capacity, or ability of the land and natural resources to support the existing population. King said climate change could lead to environmental refugees, population displacement and movement because of unsustainable living conditions, and to national and regional conflict over competing demands for diminishing resources.
"We have to start considering those threats just like we consider terrorism and these other kind of threats. In our defense analysis and military thinking we have to start considering how we are going to be able to react to the changes that are going to come about if climate change continues," he said.
King is a member of a military advisory council organized by the Institute for Environmental Security and formed of senior officers from around the world who gather to analyze the security and defense implications of climate change. He said governments and militaries need to recognize the threats of climate change and do the analysis required to develop humanitarian assistance and refugee response plans as part of stability operations overseas, and national defense and disaster plans at home.
"It has to become part of the day-to-day business of doing defense and security, and military planning. Our process is very effective in accomplishing that, but until it is identified and accepted as a threat and a risk, we don't do all the rest of the analysis that is required," King said.
To help increase awareness in the military of climate change and its national security implications, King teaches a special elective course in the topic at CGSC. One of the 15 Intermediate Level Education students currently enrolled in King's class is Maj. Ian Irmischer, an Engineer officer and a former instructor of physical geography, cartography and geographic information systems at West Point. He said the class provided an overview and awareness of climate change and how it can affect national and regional security.
"It is an awareness of how overall global impacts affect national security strategy," Irmischer said of the class. "Specifically, it gives us an introduction in how to predict areas of concern for both the Department of Defense and national security."
King said his class is writing a special report for the undersecretary of Defense about energy and climate change, and their national security implications.
"The security implications of climate change are here today, we are living with them. There is still some uncertainty, but we know enough to act now, and in the long term it is good economics," King said.
Katherine Silverthorne of E3G said there was tremendous interest in the event, and King, along with the other presenters, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd.
"Dr. King's presentation was very well received and a number of people have asked to have a copy of it. We hope to continue to work with him to educate policy makers about how climate change can impact national security, and to encourage policymakers to create robust policies that will put us in good stead for dealing with both of these threats," Silverthorne said.
King is the author of two books, including "Understanding International Environmental Security: A Strategic Military Perspective," published November 2000. His academic degrees include a bachelor of science in chemical engineering and a master of science in civil engineering (environmental) from Tennessee Technological University, a master of arts in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College, and a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Tennessee.