WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump removed climate change from the list of worldwide threats menacing the U.S. on Monday, a shift that underscores the long-term ramifications of the “America first” world view he laid out in his new National Security Strategy.
The document depicts Russia and China as combative rivals in perpetual competition with the U.S. But it makes no mention of what scientists say are the dangers posed by a warming climate, including more extreme weather events that could spark humanitarian crises, mass migrations, and conflict.
It's a significant departure from the Obama administration, which described climate change as an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” And it demonstrates how Trump has been able to unilaterally dismantle one of his predecessor's signature efforts.
As far back as 2003, during George W. Bush's presidency, a report commissioned by the Defense Department said abrupt climate change threatened “disruption and conflict,” refugee crises, border tensions and more military conflicts.
Trump's national security report, required annually by Congress, emphasizes that economic security is national security for the U.S. It makes clear the United States will unilaterally defend its sovereignty, even if that means risking existing agreements with other countries.
The new document doesn't eliminate references to the environment entirely. It “recognizes the importance of environmental stewardship” and says that “climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system.”
“The United States will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while expanding our economy,” it reads.
But Trump, in a speech about the report, blamed past administrations for putting “American energy under lock and key” and said his approach “embraces a future of American energy dominance and self-sufficiency.”
“Our nation must take advantage of our wealth in domestic resources and energy efficiency to promote competitiveness across our industries,” he said.
That thinking represents a reversal, not just from previous Democratic administrations, but from Republican as well, said Geoffrey Dabelko, director of environmental studies at Ohio University.
“Proscribing more fossil fuels rather than seeing that as a fundamental source of vulnerability that undercuts resilience ... that is definitely a departure, in some ways turning the argument on its head,” he said.
The last national strategy document, prepared by President Barack Obama in 2015, identified climate change as a national security risk alongside threats like the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and catastrophic attacks on the U.S. homeland.
Jamil N. Jaffer, founder of the National Security Institute at George Mason University's law school, sees the broader new strategy as a shift “that reasserts America's role in the world as a nation willing to assert its power and influence in its own interest, and as a nation ready and willing to engage in competition – and win – in areas ranging from economics to diplomacy.”
But Rosina Bierbaum, a University of Michigan environmental policy scientist, said, “Not including climate change in a document about security threats is putting our head in the sand.” Climate change is “absolutely a security threat,” posing risks to U.S. coastal infrastructure, expanding the ranges of pests and pathogens, and fueling more powerful storms and wildfires, she said.
Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said, “There's a big element of cutting off our nose to spite our face just because the administration doesn't like the words 'cimate change.'”