The president might not accept climate change, but the secretary of defense sure does.



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President Donald Trump might not accept climate change, but there’s at least one person in his administration who does: his secretary of defense, James Mattis.

Image from Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Trump is proposing large budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others, and he has called climate change an outright hoax. But as ProPublica reported, Secretary of Defense James Mattis not only accepts it but is treating it as a serious challenge to national defense.

The comments came in unpublished written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that was requested as part of his confirmation.

The military’s job is to prepare for the worst, so maybe it’s no surprise they’d be interested in the changing climate.

At home, thawing permafrost is eroding the land out from under radar stations in Alaska. Wildfires and floods are interrupting training in the western states. Rising seas are inundating the Navy’s Atlantic headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, and may sink a $1 billion radar station in the Marshall Islands.

Thawing permafrost destabilized this building in the Alaskan village of Shishmaref. Image from Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

Abroad, droughts and other stresses from climate change can stoke the fires of political instability and cause mass migrations. It may have influenced the Syrian civil war. The Navy will have to deal with an ice-free Arctic.

“Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon,” Mattis said.

Military experts have previously warned the Trump administration about the dangers of climate change. Both Mattis and the Defense Department have been aware of and preparing for climate change for more than a decade. Mattis has consistently talked about addressing climate change before.

In an administration that is antagonistic toward dealing with climate change, Mattis could be a voice of reason on this issue.

Climate change is going to affect almost everything, from our environment to our economy to our military. So it’s refreshing to see that someone is taking it seriously.

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