Factors Underpinning Human and National SecurityBack to table of contents
As human and national security are entwined, so are the factors that underpin them. This white paper highlights those linkages. How we respond to climate change and how we alter our approach to those underpinnings will directly influence our human security. While the changing climate demands action, how we make decisions, and the soundness and degree to which those decisions are attuned to the needs of those affected, will determine our future security, prosperity, and national cohesion.
In the United States, droughts and floods are among the most noteworthy climate-related effects involving water, and the Western United States today finds itself in historically low water conditions, presenting significant risk to domestic and municipal water supplies. As much of the water is used for agriculture, these conditions can drive up prices and impact food security. Water is also the motive force for hydropower generation and is essential as a cooling medium for many manufacturing processes. Historically low water levels are creating national security vulnerabilities.9
Barriers to addressing stewardship of water resources are many. Water sources, uses, and regulation are overseen by multiple levels of government, and the complexity of these systems can lead to inefficient management. Inconsistent federal and state water management laws hinder adoption of common approaches to water conservation and management. The “use it or lose it” doctrine of prior appropriation law and the disregard and resistance to tribal water rights further undermine sound water policy. The lack of quality data and sustained funding for accurate climate models and mapping inhibit efforts to turn data into useful information for decision-makers. Inefficiencies and gaps exist in cutting-edge research for low-water-consumption food production and manufacturing.
- 9Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security (Pasadena: California Institute of Technology; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, October 2003).
From changes in growing season length to plant hardiness zones, climate change is already impacting agricultural production nationwide. However, one of the COVID-19 pandemic’s outcomes is a heightened awareness of how our food supply chain is globally connected and how small fluctuations in availability can have cascading effects. Food production remains siloed, and many who grow, raise, or process food are skeptical of federal efforts to make the system more agile. As a result, food supply chains are highly efficient but fluctuate in response to global issues, such as COVID-19 or the grain crisis in Ukraine. To prepare for the global impacts of climate change, new and innovative research on feed stocks must be encouraged and incentivized. Proactive strategies for crop and herd substitutions are needed, as are alignments of subsidies to encourage and facilitate transitions. Employment loss can no longer be an afterthought for where crops or herds are or will no longer be sustainable. Additionally, food insecurity will pose significant challenges to communities that rely on traditional and locally grown foods, which are often entwined with important cultural traditions. Incentivizing the adoption of new technologies and new agricultural training, coupled with the development of more robust food supply chains, may help lessen the impacts of climate-related perturbations.
Transportation and Supply Chains
Recent supply chain disruptions also brought to the fore greater awareness of our dependence on shipping, port operations, and road and rail networks. For example, climate change in the form of droughts stopped the movement of more than 2,000 barges in October 2022 at various locations on the Mississippi River, which transports 92 percent of the nation’s agricultural exports.10 Without predictable river transportation, industry must rely on less efficient rail and road networks for relief, which increases consumer costs and requires greater use of diesel fuel. Even if food production can adapt to climate change, impacts to transportation networks may make agricultural supply chains vulnerable, particularly on a global scale.
Ports are heavily affected by climate impacts and can be relocated only at great cost, if at all.11
Larger ports with significant resources may be able to upgrade infrastructure continually and incrementally to accommodate ongoing coastal changes, but smaller ports often lack the resources to implement similar resiliencies, thus leading to their obsolescence.12
Further, port governance feels little pressure to create resiliency plans because of the expectation of insurance compensation and federal bailouts after disasters. While recent attention has been paid to large ports on the East and West Coasts and the emergence of growing Arctic commerce, the transportation networks of our nation’s rivers are often under threat. In the Gulf of Mexico, the mouth of the Mississippi River is undergoing physical changes, worsened by climate change, that will alter supply chain operations. Not understanding, appreciating, and thoughtfully addressing those compounding impacts is a barrier to effective strategies and action.
- 10Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Low Water on the Mississippi Slows Critical Freight Flows,” November 16, 2022.
- 11Austin Becker, Satoshi Inoue, Martin Fischer, and Ben Schwegler, “Climate Change Impacts on International Seaports: Knowledge, Perceptions, and Planning Efforts among Port Administrators,” Climatic Change 110 (1) (2012): 5–29.
- 12Koi Yu Adolf Ng, Austin Becker, Stephen Cahoon, Shu-Ling Chen, Paul Earl, and Zaili Yang, eds., Climate Change and Adaptation Planning for Ports (London: Routledge, 2015).
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic shocked our supply chains, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted energy markets, heightened awareness of the vulnerabilities of energy transition strategies, and called into question the pace of our current trajectory for a global energy transition.13 Global stability and security require energy security, from the United States and our allies. The United States, as a major consumer, producer, and exporter of fossil fuels, is capable of shaping and driving change and responding to the evolving energy landscape. But our capabilities and influence cannot be assured in the years to come unless we are willing and ready to lead in developing more renewable energy and carbon-free or low-carbon sources.
The current global energy disruption can be a near-term barrier to rapidly transitioning to renewable energy sources, but it can also be the catalyst to transition more effectively to longer-term energy solutions while considering human and national security factors. The concentration of global solar panel supply chains in China has implications for future energy security and decarbonization and is one of the key factors affecting U.S. national security.14
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the leasing of renewables on public lands and waters, the United States has made progress in the transition to renewables and carbon-free or low-carbon sources. Furthermore, growing numbers of entities at the federal and state level, as well as private corporations and younger generations, are advocating for further reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, and this transition is already underway in many sectors. Trade policies and economic feasibility will also continue to be important factors in developing domestic renewable energy sources and manufacturing capabilities. Access to necessary consumer and national security hydrocarbon-based products must remain uninterrupted during this period of transition. Thus, government, academia, industry, and local communities must come together to develop effective stewardship for the fossil fuels still needed in national security applications and manufacturing while we continue to aggressively reduce emissions.
- 13Rabah Arezki and Per Magnus Nysveen, “Ukraine Invasion: From Oil Sanctions to Accelerating the Energy Transition,” in Global Economic Consequences of the War in Ukraine: Sanctions, Supply Chains and Sustainability, ed. Luis Garicano, Dominic Rohner, and Beatrice Weder di Mauro (London: CEPR Press, 2022), 84–87.
- 14Jianglong Li and Jiashun Huang, “The Expansion of China’s Solar Energy: Challenges and Policy Options,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 132 (2020): 110002; and Shum, “Heliopolitics.”