Trump’s Defense Secretary breaks with President, insists climate change is a real threat

General James Mattis, whom President Trump appointed to head the U.S. Department of Defense, is contradicting his boss on climate change.

While testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Mattis said the rapidly changing climate was a threat not only to national security at home, but to American interests all over the globe, according to ProPublica. Mattis particularly emphasized that the national security threat was real as of today, and spoke of climate change as a current threat rather than something to take into account for the future.

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis wrote in response to Democrats on the committee after his confirmation hearing in January. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

Mattis’ remarks are in line with what the Pentagon has previously said about climate change. In a 2015 report, the Department of Defense laid out how climate change threatens world powers all over the globe, as dwindling food and water supplies that come about from accelerating changes in the climate feed instability in already unstable regions of the world.

“[C]limate change is a security risk, Pentagon officials said, because it degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations,” a summary of the report read. “Communities and states that already are fragile and have limited resources are significantly more vulnerable to disruption and far less likely to respond effectively and be resilient to new challenges.”

General Mattis also addressed climate change during his hearing, and spoke of it as a present and ongoing threat in an exchange with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) cited by ProPublica:

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: “I understand that while you were commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command you signed off on a document called the Joint Operating Environment, which listed climate change as one of the security threats the military will face in the next quarter-century. Do you believe climate change is a security threat?”

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS: “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

SHAHEEN: “General Mattis, how should the military prepare to address this threat?”

MATTIS: “As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

The Secretary of Defense’s statements on climate change take a drastically different approach to the issue than President Trump, who once said that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese government to threaten the U.S. economy.

Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, recently doubted the fundamental science behind climate change by stating his belief that carbon dioxide emissions didn’t contribute to a warming planet. Emails between Pruitt and oil company executives released as part of a public records request show that the EPA administrator was extremely close to the fossil fuel industry while he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.


Kevin Wallace is a journalist with five years’ experience in print and digital media, and covers politics, media, and culture for the Resistance Report. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.