Today the New York Times published a story about the increased flooding that coastal areas in the US are facing as a result of climate change and reminded me of one of the best illustrations that Congressman Ryan Zinke has become such a creature of Washington and conservative, anti-science politics that he’s even willing to vote against the military.
This summer, Zinke voted for a Republican-sponsored amendment that prohibited the Department of Defense from spending money to make military forces more resilient in the face of the threat of climate change, even though the Department of Defense has been warning for almost a decade about the threat of climate change:
DOD officials have been warning for years that climate change could have dire consequences on U.S. national security. Increased refugee flows, which are already straining Europe, are likely to accelerate as the climate heats up and have the potential to destabilize large swaths of the world, including the Middle East and South Pacific. The “oil wars” of the 20th century could give way to “water wars,” with countries competing for scarce natural resources.
The worst part of the Zinke-backed amendment is that it politicizes an issue that the military is tackling as a strategic question. Kevin Billings, who worked for the Bush Administration, writing at the US Naval Institute, notes that adoption of the amendment would be catastrophic:
The inability to take into account the changing climate would be catastrophic limitation. This limitation would be compounded by the fact that most of our efforts, against ISIS and other potential adversaries are carried out though multinational coalitions. U.S. joint strategic plans and contingency plans prepared in support of multinational efforts are developed, reviewed, and approved exclusively within U.S. operational channels. Currently, Combatant Commands are integrating climate-related impacts into their planning cycles to reduce the national security implications associated with climate change. This includes monitoring, analysis, and integration of climate related risks into existing overall risk management measures, as appropriate for each combatant command. The Buck Amendment would tie the hands of not only our Combatant Commanders and military planners, but render the United States ineffective in joint planning and operations.
Zinke’s vote would be run of the mill Republican politicization of climate science if Zinke himself had not forcefully argued in the past that climate change poses a serious threat to our national military readiness. In 2008, he told Montana Conservation Voters that climate change is a national security issue, one so serious that he brought military leadership to Montana to discuss. In 2010, he signed a letter to President Obama and the Congress, demanding that they act to pass climate change legislation because, in the words of the letter:
Our nation’s most respected military leaders recognize that climate change is a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world. The climate change threat presents significant national security challenges for the United States – challenges that should be addressed today, because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.
In a career defined by flip-flops, there is none worse than Congressman Zinke’s decision to cave to the resource extraction industry and ignore the science he defended only a few years ago. That his decision to put coal campaign dollars ahead of the military he speaks so often of makes his decision even more craven.
In the next debate between Zinke and Juneau, it would seem a fair-minded panelist could ask any or all of the following questions to the Congressman:
- Why has your position on climate change shifted so dramatically?
- Could you cite any scientific studies that have led you to change your viewpoint?
- Do you no longer agree with the letter you signed that said we need clean energy to prevent steep costs from natural disasters, to protect our national security, and to ensure American leadership?
- And why would a member of Congress who claims that the military should not be politicized would be willing to harm military readiness to appease the people in his party opposed to climate science?
People certainly evolve in their understanding of issues, especially when they receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for doing so. Shouldn’t the press ask Congressman Zinke to explain his rapid evolution on this issue, especially since it relates to closely to his promise to protect the military and Montana jobs?