Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Military Officials Say Climate Change Could Destabilize Weak Governments

Military officials say climate change could lead to political instability around the world. They spoke at a California senate hearing Friday in San Diego.

Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn was one several people testifying at the hearing.

He said the effects of climate change will likely act as a "threat multiplier" for instability around the world, which means already weak regions could be more threatened.

McGinn said fragile governments could crumble due to prolonged droughts, floods, modest sea level rise and decimated fisheries and farms.

"When people can't meet their basic human needs, it's going to create a breakdown in societal order, a vacuum of power, if you will," said McGinn. "Fragile governments will become failed governments and into that vacuum's going to flow some bad characters -- organized crime, paramilitaries and terrorists."

McGinn said climate change, energy security and national security are linked. He said you can't come up with solutions to one without considering all three in a comprehensive way.

McGinn once served as commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, homeported at Point Loma.

State Senator Fran Pavley said before the meeting that San Diego is one of the top four cities reaping the benefits of California's landmark global greenhouse gas emissions law known as AB 32.

One part of the law requires the state to roll back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Pavley said that has spurred the creation of jobs and billions of dollars of investment in new technology companies.

"We're seeing businesses sprouting up throughout California, from renewable energy, alternative fuels or research and development that creates innovative technologies that we can export overseas," said Pavley.

Pavley said $3.3 billion in venture capital funds came to California in 2008 to fuel the creation of clean technology businesses.

She said efforts to qualify an initiative for the November 2010 ballot that would delay the implementation of AB 32 are being paid for by out-of-state companies.

"I think it should be noted the petition drive is being bankrolled by two Texas oil companies; they're not California companies," said Pavley. "Valero and Tesoro of Texas have a vested interest in an outcome here," she said, referring to reports the two companies have contributed more than $500,000 to signature-gathering efforts.

Pavley said delaying or suspending the implementation of AB 32 and the caps on greenhouse gas emissions would cost the state new jobs and potentially derail research efforts seeking alternatives to fossil fuels for energy needs.

"It would send the wrong signal to the market; it will dry up the venture capital investment," said Pavley.

San Diego State Senator Christine Kehoe said slowing the rollout of AB 32 would hurt the state's growing green technology economy.

"We already know Chinese investment in photovoltaics and somewhat in electric and other energy-efficient vehicles is happening," said Kehoe. "They have an enormous market. Either we are going to develop and export this technology or someone else will."

Pavley added that imports of oil combined with the threat of climate change creates a risk to national security and the U.S. economy.

"Our economic future and impacts to our environment are being threatened,” said Pavley. “This hearing clearly demonstrated that it’s vital to the health of our families, the health of our economy and the security of our nation to continue to move toward a cleaner, safer, and more reliable energy future.”

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.