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Climate Change: A Threat to National Security?

October 19, 2009

CONCORD, N.H. - Melting ice caps, rising sea levels and endangered polar bears are among the most familiar potential threats of climate change causing concern to people in New Hampshire. But America's national security might also be at stake, according to a group of high-ranking retired military officers.

One of that number, retired U.S. Navy vice admiral Dennis McGinn, says people in failed states such as Afghanistan and Somalia often turn to extremism. He says weak nations can be pushed over the edge by such natural disasters as floods, droughts or hurricanes, which some observers say have been increasing in number and intensity and have been linked to climate change.

"Imagine, around the world, fault lines along religious, ethnic, economic and political lines. Put a big magnifying glass on top of those fault lines, increase them in frequency and intensity, and that's what the climate change dynamic will do."

McGinn says global warming is already causing important water problems in parts of Central and South Asia.

He says the American military is moving strongly towards energy conservation and alternative fuels. According to the retired admiral, the Department of Defense wants to save money and protect the country from the possible security threat resulting from U.S. dependence on imported oil. And, he says, one solution is using domestic renewable energy sources.

"The Navy is investigating use of algae-based oils for ship and airborne fuel use. In fact, they're planning on flying a F-18 Super Hornet next year, using algae-based oil."

The Air Force considered using airplane fuel made from coal. But McGinn says it didn't work because of cost and technical issues.

"The notion of coal to liquid, when you first take a look at it, seems appealing, but when you look at some of the technical difficulties in actually doing it, it's pretty much a non-starter."

Some business executives and trade groups have disputed whether industrial activity is having an impact on the climate.

The Senate is now debating a bill on climate change.

A report written by the CNA Military Advisory Board - which includes McGinn - is available at

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH