President Barack Obama said Wednesday that global climate change poses immediate risks to U.S. national security by increasing the possibility of natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
The American leader told new graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, that the effects of climate change will impact how the military defends the United States, and that the world needs to act urgently to combat the effects of rising temperatures.
"Climate change, and especially rising seas, is a threat to our homeland security — our economic infrastructure, the safety and health of the American people," Obama said.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with guests on the tarmac upon his arrival on Air Force One at Groton-New London Airport, May 20, 2015, in Groton, Conn.
"Climate change poses a threat to the readiness of our forces," he said. "Many of our military installations are on the coast - including, of course, our Coast Guard stations. Around Norfolk [Virginia], high tides and storms increasingly flood parts of our Navy base and an air base. In Alaska, thawing permafrost is damaging military facilities. Out West, deeper droughts and longer wildfires could threaten training areas our troops depend on."
The president told the new Coast Guard officers: "You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us. It will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, their capabilities - today and for the long-term."
In Washington, one Republican lawmaker, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, derided Obama's contention that climate change is a national security threat.
"Americans understand that there are much more immediate threats facing our nation - the fall of Ramadi in Iraq, the brutal terrorist attacks by ISIS," Barrasso said. "These are clear examples of the real threat that must be addressed by President Obama."
The White House says the Pentagon is studying the vulnerability of the military's more than 7,000 bases and other facilities for the effects of climate change, and the possibility of increased demands on the National Guard in the aftermath of frequent weather disasters.
The president also outlined some changes underway by the United States to reduce demand on the environment, such as increasing use of wind and solar power, increasing autos' fuel efficiency and cutting energy waste in residences and businesses.