Rand Paul's climate idiocy: How his political games could now hurt the planet

Paul's new favorite talking point treats climate change like some funny punch line -- truth (and experts) be damned

Published September 8, 2014 6:07PM (EDT)

Rand Paul                               (AP/Stephan Savoia)
Rand Paul (AP/Stephan Savoia)

Rand Paul has a habit of announcing that Hillary Clinton is not qualified, or is disqualified, from ever holding any sort of high office, to include the presidency. He says this over and over, time and again, and each time he says it he earns himself a cascade of headlines. Typically, the reason he offers for Hillary’s disqualification is “Benghazi,” and this makes conservatives nod in solemn agreement because to them, Benghazi was the worst national security failure in the history of America.

Last week, however, he put a new spin on this old standby of his. On Thursday evening, Hillary Clinton spoke at a clean energy conference in Las Vegas and described the looming catastrophes promised by unchecked climate change as “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.” This remark, according to Rand Paul, also disqualifies Clinton from the presidency. “For her to be out there saying that the biggest threat to our safety and to our well-being is climate change, I think, goes to the heart of the matter of whether or not she has the wisdom to lead the country,” he said on Fox News, “which I think it’s obvious that she doesn’t.”

Then, Rand went in for the kill: “I don’t think we really want a commander-in-chief who’s battling climate change instead of terrorism.”

What a quip! What a blunt and devastating assessment of Clinton’s priorities! Climate change? That’s not even real! Terrorism? That’s happening all around us, and we should be prudent and carefully consider what we can accomplish militarily DESTROY IT WITH ALL OUR TROOPS AND MISSILES HEEYAAAAAH!!!

Of course, there’s absolutely no reason why any president can’t battle climate change and terrorism at the same time. One could actually make a reasonable argument that Barack Obama’s aggressive efforts in both arenas will, along with healthcare reform, be the legacy he’s remembered for. The irony of Paul’s attack on Clinton is that if President Rand Paul were to combat terrorism and not climate change, he’d actually be weakening the national security of the United States.

That, at least, is the logical inference one can derive from reports like this one from CNA Military Advisory Board, which found that “the nature and pace of observed climate changes — and an emerging scientific consensus on their projected consequences — pose severe risks for our national security.” Basically, as sea levels rise and temperatures increase, American military power will be in greater demand as humanitarian crises mount and conflicts erupt over dwindling resources. “The projected impacts of climate change could be detrimental to military readiness, strain base resilience both at home and abroad, and may limit our ability to respond to future demands,” the report found.

Pentagon officials are upfront about the security threat posed by climate change and have testified to Congress about how the effects of global warming undermine Defense Department operations all over the world. The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review from the Pentagon states:

The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Climate change and national security are, in many ways, the same issue, and that poses something of an existential conflict for the GOP. The belief that climate change is a tremendous scam perpetrated on the world by a sinister cadre of liberals and scientists who are just looking to get rich is a pillar of modern conservatism. And that’s why, generally speaking, the average Republican is hawkish on national security and will do whatever the Pentagon asks of him or her – except when it comes to climate change. And so they just neatly separate the two issues – if you don’t believe the decades of scientific research showing climate change is real, then you’re certainly not going to be persuaded of the risks it poses.

Ideally, the next president will take climate change seriously precisely because it is a national security issue. But the sad reality of the situation is that whoever that president is, their efforts will be hampered by Republicans like Rand Paul who – despite warnings from scientists and the military – steadfastly refuse to recognize the danger.

By Simon Maloy

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