Climate Change Nebraska

Trump, Ricketts Threaten Climate Security, Hagel Says

Lack of climate leadership hurts all Americans, former US senator charges

By: Kat Woerner

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said leaders like Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and President Donald Trump threaten US national security by ignoring climate change. Photo by University of Nebraska Omaha
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said leaders like Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and President Donald Trump threaten US national security by ignoring climate change. Photo by University of Nebraska Omaha

President Donald Trump and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts are jeopardizing America’s security by ignoring the threat of climate change, former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.  

“If the leadership of a nation does not understand climate change or the consequences of climate change then it’s very likely that they will not prepare the government and the people for eventualities that will come,” Hagel said in advance of the one-year anniversary of the 2019 floods that devastated Nebraska.

The former two-term US Republican senator from Nebraska expressed concern regarding the consequences for the state and globally if the issue is downplayed or disregarded. Political leaders like Trump and Ricketts should be marshalling support for attacking the problem, said Hagel, who has endorsed Joe Biden for president.

Instead, he said, they are acting like it isn’t an issue.

Taylor Gage, a spokesman for the governor, did not comment on Hagel’s criticism despite a number of requests to do so. Ricketts has called himself a skeptic on climate change. When asked if last year’s floods, which caused more than $1 billion in damage to the state, had changed his outlook, Ricketts said that the weather is always changing.

Hagel reserved some of his harshest criticism for Trump’s 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, saying the move undercut the type of global cooperation that is necessary to address climate change.

“I thought it was catastrophic. I thought it was stupid,” Hagel said. “It was a very, very dangerously irresponsible decision.”

The devastating floods that hit Nebraska and Iowa a year ago are a “good indicator of what’s coming if we don’t prepare,” Hagel said.

Starting on March 16, floodwaters breached levees and buried one-third of Offutt, home to U.S. Strategic Command, under 4 feet of water. Hagel said the flood reduced the capabilities of the base, though not critically.

Military installations across the globe are already dealing with the effects of a warming planet, he said. Rising seas, for example, are complicating operations at naval bases in Norfolk, Virginia, and in San Diego.

“You can’t fly your planes. You’re limited on maneuverability of your ships,” Hagel said. “You don’t have nearly as lethal of a national security response to issues and challenges that might occur.”

The security risks extend beyond infrastructure, said Hagel, who as defense secretary under President Barack Obama oversaw a shift in Arctic strategy in response to climate change. Climate change is likely to spread disease and force millions to migrate from their homes to flee increasingly extreme weather threats.

“You bring famine on, and pestilence on, and water that no one can drink, and all the other consequences with it, there’s going to be a national security effect on that region and on the world,” Hagel said. “That’s another consequence of what’s coming if we don’t adjust and prepare better than we are now.”

The White House defended Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris. Under the agreement, countries voluntarily committed to reducing greenhouse gases to limit the global rise of temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius this century.

“Other countries around the world and DC elites are obsessed with the Paris climate accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an emailed response to Hagel’s criticism.

Although he’s endorsed Biden for president, Hagel said he still considers himself to be a Republican. But he called the party a “know-nothing party” for ignoring the science that proves greenhouse gas emissions are altering the Earth’s climate in dramatic ways.

“When the governor or a president says, ‘There’s no problem. I don’t see any issue here,’ that resonates among the people,” Hagel said. “Leaders are very critical to this.”

Hagel also criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently ended his campaign to become the Democratic nominee for president, for pushing the Green New Deal in response to climate change. The Green New Deal calls for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Biden’s climate plan endorses the framework of the deal, but his plan calls for net-zero emissions by 2050. Hagel said the Green New Deal is too extreme for most Americans.

“You have to be smarter than that about how you come at this,” Hagel said.

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