Catch the recent “Politics, Power, and Preventative Action” podcast interview with RTJ founder Mark Mateski.

Frame Wars

Like Steven Walt, I have to question whether framing climate change as a national security threat really makes sense. First, the idea of climate change itself as a national security threat gets things backward. Security is ultimately a matter of politics and politics consists of human interactions. War, for example, is a human interaction that prominently features two sides trying to violently impose their wills on each other. Climate change in the abstract is not a threat–rather it is the way it negatively changes human interactions that is important. Increased war due to climate change is the threat, not climate change. Think this is just idle semantics? Ascribing features of the environment as “threats” is a dangerous road to travel down, unnecessarily militarizing rhetoric and policy approaches. Frame climate change for what it is–a massive systemic change to the international system, just like globalization or technology (both are similarly viewed as a “threat” in some quarters).
      The reason why climate change is being articulated through the prism of nationals security owes more to a political failure by the environmental movement than the expansion of a new mode of security thinking. Environmentalist political rhetoric isn’t as sexy or attention-grabbing as the national security frame so environmentalist rhetoric is being cast through the prism of security thinking. Instead of doing so, environmentalists should instead make the case that environmentalism is a viable concern in and of itself and should be regarded with just as much gravity as economics or security. I have no objections to studying the implications of climate change on the international system and US interests. But before that debate begins we need to have some basic conceptual clarity.