Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis: Don’t Get Caught “Flat-Footed” by Climate Change

In a September 5th interview with Andrea Mitchell, former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke about the importance of addressing the security threat of climate change, much as he did while he was Secretary of Defense from 2017-2019. In particular, he addressed skeptical audiences, stating: “why wouldn’t we take out an insurance policy and do prudent steps to make certain the generation that’s coming up is not going to be caught flat-footed by this?” Here’s the clip:

Secretary Mattis was the first in at least 32 senior U.S. defense officials to recommend action on climate change during this Administration.

Transcript of the exchange:

Mitchell: “Climate change. When you went into government, to this office, you made a clear point about climate change. That the danger, the national security threat to our bases, to our troops. Now recently, since you’ve left, the Navy has rolled back an Obama-era climate commission – a task force on climate for the military. How do you feel about that?

Mattis: “Yeah, I’ve not read the details of what was happening and what was rolled back, so I don’t want to comment on something I’m not privy to. However, I will say that climate change, I believe, is a reality. We are dealing with open waters where it used to be ice fields, that we have to deal with. And I think that, let me just talk for a moment to those who are skeptical climate change. Wouldn’t you, even if you’re a skeptical of it, wouldn’t you want to take out an insurance policy just in case it was right? I mean, I’m not going to talk to people who believe in climate change right now, but for those who are adamant there’s no climate change, you look at the receding sea ice and have different explanations, why wouldn’t we take out an insurance policy and do prudent steps to make certain the generation that’s coming up is not going to be caught flat-footed by this? It’s a national security issue because when people have to leave devastated areas, and move elsewhere, the refugee flows, all the humanitarian effort that goes into it, the willingness of some people to take advantage of those people, terrorists in particular, and recruit from them because they feel a loss of hope, it’s a reality we’re going to have to deal with.”

Clarification: In the clip, Andrea Mitchell noted that the U.S. Navy “has rolled back an Obama-era climate commission – a task force on climate for the military.” While it is true that the US Navy Task Force Climate Change (USNTFCC) was quietly disbanded earlier this year (a move that was criticized by its former head, retired Rear Admiral Jonathan White), it’s worth clarifying that the task force was not quite an Obama-era effort. In fact, the task force was called for by former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Roughhead, back in 2008, and began to be set up by Rear Admiral Dave Titley that same year, before the Obama Administration entered office in 2009. For more on the closure of the USNTFCC, click here.

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