Cyclone Debbie hits Queensland, Australia on March 28, 2017. Image: Newspix/REX/Shutterstock
Each year the intelligence community puts together a "Worldwide Threat Assessment" report, and it inevitably scares the hell out of Congress and the public by detailing all the dangers facing the U.S. (Hint: there are a lot of them.)
This year's report, published Thursday and discussed at a congressional hearing, makes for particularly disquieting reading.
While it focuses on the increasing danger that North Korea's nuclear weapons program poses as well as cyberterrorism threats, one environmental concern stands out on the list: climate change.
According to the new report, delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence (DNI), warns that climate change is raising the likelihood of instability and conflict around the world.
This is surprising given the Trump administration's open hostility to climate science findings.
"The trend toward a warming climate is forecast to continue in 2017," the report states, noting that 2016 was the hottest year on record worldwide. Climate scientists have firmly tied this to human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, though the report does not make that link.
Norfolk Naval Base, the largest in the world, is experiencing flooding from sea level rise. Image: US NAVY HAND/REX/Shutterstock
"This warming is projected to fuel more intense and frequent extreme weather events that will be distributed unequally in time and geography. Countries with large populations in coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to tropical weather events and storm surges, especially in Asia and Africa," the report states.
The report also cites worsening air pollution in urban areas around the globe, potential water resources conflicts in places like the Middle East. Interestingly, the intelligence report also says that biodiversity losses from pollution, overexploitation and other causes is "disrupting ecosystems that support life, including humans."
"The rate of species loss worldwide Is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the natural background extinction rate, according to peer-reviewed scientific literature," the report states.
The findings in this report are surprising considering the Trump administration's hostility to mainstream climate science findings and policies aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior Department, have gone so far as to take down pages devoted to peer-reviewed scientific reports on climate change.
For example, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is the main driver of global warming. This view goes against thousands of peer reviewed climate studies, as well as findings from his own agency.
However, there is a caveat in the intelligence community's assessment that lets Coats avoid being accused of aligning himself with the administration's critics in the environmental community.
"We assess national security Implications of climate change but do not adjudicate the science of climate change," the report states. In other words, "We're just telling you what's happening, not why it's happening."
Waves batter the sea wall and the lighthouse at Porthcawl, south Wales as storm Doris hits the UK in February 2017. Image: Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock
"In assessing these Implications, we rely on US government-coordinated scientific reports, peer reviewed literature, and reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which Is the leading International body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change."
Past intelligence and Defense Department assessments have also warned of potentially severe blowback from global warming. For example, a 2016 report from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which advises the DNI, found that extreme weather events have growing implications for humans, which “suggest[s] that climate-change related disruptions are well underway."
That report also stated that climate change will cause growing security risks for the U.S. during the next several years. It was the first major intelligence review to cast climate change as a present-day security challenge, rather than a distant, far-off threat.
The military is already experiencing global warming impacts at its bases, particularly the Navy, which is dealing with sea level rise at its facilities.
Bonus: WATCH VIDEO: 2016 was Earth's warmest year on record, continuing a three-year streak...
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