WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified Tuesday that the country must confront the danger posed by climate change.
“Climate change is a real and present threat to our national security, which most likely will get worse,” Hagel said. “There needs to be a dedicated effort to address this threat.”
Hagel appeared alongside his old colleague, former Secretary of State John Kerry, at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that focused on climate change and national security.
Hagel and Kerry recently led a group of 58 military and national security leaders in sending a letter to President Donald Trump.
That letter stated their concerns over reports that the White House is contemplating a panel aimed at undermining expert assessments about the reality of climate change and its dangers.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, pressed the two former secretaries about the fact that the president has yet to take any official action to form that panel.
He questioned how they could possibly know who would serve on such a body or what their conclusions would be.
Kerry responded that he hopes the letter and Tuesday’s hearing will help warn the White House away from going against the scientific consensus on climate change.
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Hagel, a Republican, represented Nebraska in the Senate for two terms. He and Kerry, a Democrat, stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation. But Tuesday’s hearing featured its share of partisan sniping.
Kerry sparred with the Republican committee members on everything from tax cuts to foreign policy. And he also went round and round with some of the Republican members about the question of climate change and humans’ role in it.
Republican members repeatedly stated that the climate has long been changing and questioned the extent of human activity in driving the current situation.
“There are scientists out there who disagree with your findings,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.
Kerry responded that it’s possible to find someone who will say anything but that the overwhelming scientific consensus is clear: Human activity represents the driving force behind today’s changing climate.
Republicans also repeatedly invoked the Green New Deal, a nonbinding resolution that supporters see as a call for aggressive action to confront climate change but detractors mock as an unrealistic wish list that would cost vast sums of taxpayer money.
Jordan pushed Hagel about the Green New Deal resolution representing an inherently partisan measure because it has only Democratic sponsors.
“Take that up with the congresswoman, not me,” Hagel responded. “I’m not here to defend that bill or testify about it.”
Many of the questions for Hagel focused on how climate change will affect the military.
He pointed to extreme weather that has recently devastated U.S. military facilities, from hurricanes that wrecked bases in North Carolina and Florida to the massive flooding at Offutt Air Force Base.
Hagel cited a Pentagon assessment that many U.S. bases are vulnerable to wildfires, flooding and droughts and said that has to factor into the military’s future preparations.
“Planning for climate change is not some frivolous waste of time or waste of money,” Hagel said. “It is essential to our troops and to their well-being and the national security of this country.”
After the hearing, Hagel told The World-Herald that the current political environment has paralyzed Congress and that he doesn’t see that breaking until at least after next year’s election.
In the interim, he said, time is passing and America is being left out of international efforts to make progress.
“Yes it’s a burden for America to lead, but do we really want someone else to lead the world?” Hagel said. “Do you want your kids to grow up in a world that America doesn’t lead? I don’t think so.”