Editorial: Prioritizing fighting terrorism over climate change is a no-win scenario

Obama at the U.N.

President Obama addresses the United Nations 70th General Assembly on Sept. 28.

(Los Angeles Times)

The start of the Paris climate summit on Monday should be a moment of glory for President Obama. His administration has instituted the country’s first serious action against climate change by requiring dirty coal plants to drastically lower emissions. He played a key role in China’s dramatic attitude shift on climate. His rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline prompted a change of heart in the Canadian province where the tar sands that produce the oil are located; the premier of Alberta has announced that the province will cap greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands and place new emphasis on clean, sustainable energy resources. With the effects of global warming becoming more obvious all the time, and the United States and China offering concrete plans to do their part, the stage is set for a far more successful summit than the 2009 conference in Copenhagen.

Obama already faces unconscionable foot-dragging at home.

But any agreement will be only as worthwhile as nations’ commitment to carrying it through. Obama already faces unconscionable foot-dragging at home. Republican leaders have made it abundantly clear that they are ready to thwart his plans if Democrats lose the White House. Even in California, the nation’s leader in combating climate change, there’s been some fall-off in commitment. A bill to extend and strengthen the state’s landmark climate change law died in the Legislature; another bill was passed only after sponsors stripped out proposals to reduce vehicles’ oil use. Though those provisions went too far as originally written, the state still needs to curb this potent source of greenhouse gases.

And now, in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, the president has been criticized for not doing more to combat terrorism rather than global warming. It’s true that Obama underestimated the threat Islamic State posed, but the dichotomy is a false one. Not only do both issues deserve top priority, they are, in fact, closely linked.


Left unchecked, rising oceans will bring disaster to low-lying coastal countries, which in many cases are poor and politically unstable. Rising temperatures and extreme weather events predicted by climate models are expected to disrupt agriculture, creating famine in many developing nations. The number of refugees is expected to soar under this scenario, and the destabilization of nations would provide a perfect opportunity for terrorist groups.

Archaeologists tell us that previous episodes of climate change have been accompanied by social and political upheaval. The collapse of the Maya civilization and the Anasazi culture of the Southwest has been linked to climate change-induced droughts. The fight against terrorism must occur on two fronts: the immediate threats posed by jihadist groups, and the even bigger long-term threats from the global crisis that almost surely awaits if the world does not take strong steps to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas pollution.

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