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Al Gore on why climate change is a national security threat

Al Gore Al Gore

In this edition of our series "Issues That Matter," we take a closer look at the impact of climate change on national security. Former Vice President Al Gore spent decades working on the global issue, winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 2007. He's also made two movies on the subject: "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006 and this year's "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power."

Gore said the Pentagon has "for a long time through several administrations" warned climate change was a national security issue, in part because it affects scarce resources and refugee flows in places like the Middle East. He gave the example of the turmoil in Syria.

"Some regions are in danger of becoming literally unlivable with increasing temperatures and humidity. Humidity worldwide has gone up 5 percent just in the last 30 years because of all the evaporation off the oceans. And the desertification and extended drought in the eastern Mediterranean is linked by the scientists to the multi-sided civil war in Syria," Gore said. "Other causes as well, but long before that civil war started, this climate-related drought destroyed 60 percent of their farms, killed 80 percent of their livestock, drove 1.5 million refugees into the cities. And the Syrian ministers were saying on WikiLeaks, 'This is going to cause an explosion. We can't handle this.' And that was before the gates of hell opened in Syria."

Pandemic diseases related to shifting climate conditions can also threaten national security, Gore added.

"In Latin America last year, for first time ever, doctors were telling women don't get pregnant for two years in some regions of Central and South American because of the Zika virus. These mosquitoes bite more often when the weather goes up. They reproduce more actively. The virus incubates more quickly in the mosquito," Gore said.

There are a series of tropical diseases moving into regions where people have not developed immunities, he added.

"It's the travel revolution and air travel has had something to do with it, for sure, but the climate shifts have changed the regions where these viruses and other microbial diseases are taking hold. It's also a threat to food security and water scarcity," Gore said.

Other climate-related national security issues include threats to military infrastructure, enhanced economic rivalries and increased likelihood of natural disasters. In the past decade, Gore said extreme weather has become "way more common."

"Superstorm Sandy here flooded the… 9/11 site, for example. We have these rain bombs all over the country, all over the world. Seven inches in a couple of hours in Florida yesterday," Gore said.

Despite President Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate accord in June, Gore pointed to others who have "doubled down" on their commitments to combating climate change.  

"All around the world, we're seeing an illustration of the old maxim, for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction to what Donald Trump is doing has been very strong. There's a huge upsurge in activism to try to solve the climate crisis," Gore said. "Listen. This is for real. Our kids are depending upon us. We're feeling the effects of it now. We've got to get over this phony kind of discussion, 'Is this real?' Of course it's real. The scientists have been nearly unanimous for a long time, but now Mother Nature is weighing in. Turns out she's way more persuasive than any of us."

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