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American Security Project pushes climate change awareness

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The Allegheny Front
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David Titley, Retired Rear Admiral and Director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk";

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week grabbed headlines by calling climate change a weapon of mass destruction. But way before that, he helped start a nonpartisan think tank to carry out the same message. Now some retired high-ranking military are foot soldiers for that group, the American Security Project.  They're nine-state tour started in Pittsburgh recently. 

Retired Brigadier General Stephen Cheney directs the think tank. He says then-senator Kerry and other politicians, from both parties, started the American Security Project after the 2004 elections.

"There was a number of issues that were brought up during the campaign that got painted one way or the other—far left or far right—without looking at the facts concerning them. In particular was climate change," he says. "You would well imagine some talk climate change and treehuggers, polar bears, Sierra Club, and nobody paid attention to the facts."

Cheney says the project’s done a lot of their work inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. on topics like climate change, nuclear and alternative energy, but their funders insisted that they get out into the real world. And their message was not just that climate change is real, but that we, as Americans, are causing it to the greatest degree.

Cheney and others spoke of how erratic weather events that are more likely with climate change are already sucking up military resources.

"Hurricane Sandy turned into to a major joint operation for the United States military," Cheney says." Every service was involved. A Marine expeditionary unit went to New York. How do you plan for that? How do you budget for that?"

And it’s not just coastal regions that are bearing the burden of climate change.  They also stressed that future storms will impact Pennsylvania--in particular, western Pennsylvania where wet weather’s already causes problems. Cheney says beyond the military costs, local taxpayers will have to shell out a lot of money.

"In Allegheny County, if you have another major flood, it’s going to cause you about a billion dollars," Cheney says. "I would just gut guess and I’d play poker on it, that you’re going to have one of those in the next 10 years." 

Globally, he says drought in Mali and severe fires in Russia are at least partly responsible for deadly uprisings that demanded American military response. Cheney says that extreme weather has already and will continue to increase in the changing climate.

At the same time, military bases around the world are at risk.

“Norfolk and Norfolk Naval Air Station, in about 30 to 40 years will probably go under water," Cheney says. "I served 30-plus years in the Marines—where are most of our bases and stations? They’re on the coast. Diego Garcia, which is one of major staging areas for logistics in the Indian Ocean, it’s a goner I think. We stage significant assets there.”

Still, the speakers said there’s reason for some level of optimism

“We’re probably going to push this about as far as we humanly can. And then we’re going to pull it out of our you-know-where at the very last minute.”

That’s David Titley. He’s Retired Rear Admiral and Director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk. When he was in the Navy he was pulled in to put together its first Task Force on Climate Change.

He thinks back to that victorious moment in 1970 when Apollo 13 was saved. In that case, the spacecraft and its crew returned to earth after an accident had threatened their lives.

“It was really an amazing moment for America,” Titley said. “When we took what was almost certain tragedy and turned it into victory, and I’d like to think that’s what we’re going to do with climate change as well."

Until that critical moment, Titley says attitudes about climate change can evolve, and people can make positive changes in their actions. He compared it to American attitudes about gay marriage.  Titley says a decade ago, it may have seemed same-sex marriage would never be allowed in this country. Now it’s becoming widely accepted.

Steve Hernandez stood listening to the American Security Project speakers. He’s an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is thinking about how he’ll convey what he heard with students he works with in ROTC..

"I think probably the most practical thing is to beat the drum—just keep trying to educate that climate change is a serious deal," Hernandez says.

The American Security Project also took their presentation to a different generation of soldiers.  They visited a VFW north of Pittsburgh.  Later, VFW Commander and infantryman with the famed 101st Airborne Division, John McDowell, said many of the listeners in his group believed what Cheney and Titley said, in part because of their rank. 

"I would like to see these guys get more exposure," he says of the American Security Project. "Even if it turns out that we’re—the human race isn’t causing this—if we do stop polluting like we’re doing now, it can’t hurt."

The American Security Project started its tour in Pittsburgh because it’s considered to be a ground zero for energy sources-like nuclear and natural gas--that could emit fewer of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.  The group will march on through Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and several other states with their climate change presentation.

Steve Hernandez stood listening to the American Security Project speakers. He’s an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is thinking about how he’ll convey what he heard with students he works with in ROTC..

"I think probably the most practical thing is to beat the drum—just keep trying to educate that climate change is a serious deal," Hernandez says.

The American Security Project also took their presentation to a different generation of soldiers.  They visited a VFW north of Pittsburgh.  Later, VFW Commander and infantryman with the famed 101st Airborne Division, John McDowell, said many of the listeners in his group believed what Cheney and Titley said, in part because of their rank. 

"I would like to see these guys get more exposure," he says of the American Security Project. "Even if it turns out that we’re—the human race isn’t causing this—if we do stop polluting like we’re doing now, it can’t hurt."

The American Security Project started its tour in Pittsburgh because it’s considered to be a ground zero for energy sources-like nuclear and natural gas--that could emit fewer of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.  The group will march on through Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and several other states with their climate change presentation.

See more at: http://www.alleghenyfront.org/