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During the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh, I happened by chance upon a different take on why the United States needs to lead on switching to a clean energy economy and drastically cutting our greenhouse emissions. I was supposed to meet with Spencer Ackerman, among others, to chat about comic books and politics over lunch, and since Spencer is a defense policy reporter at the Washington Independent, he recommended that we do it over lunch with the good folks at Operation Free, who were also having lunch at the same time. (By the way, if you ever want to catch up on the last several years of Marvel Comics continuity, you could do worse than talking to Spencer.)

There are many arguments for why we should pass a strong climate change bill, even stronger than the American Clean Energy and Security Act, most of which I’ve heard before. It’s the right thing to do (we caused the mess, we should restore the natural order); it will be good for the economy by creating green jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and it will help the poor nations that will be hardest hit by famine, severe storms, floods, and rising coastlines.

Operation FREE offers an additional reason: our national security is vastly undermined in a world in which we continue to rely on fossil fuels, increasing carbon emissions and allowing the Earth to continue to warm. There are two complementary aspects to how our reliance on petroleum and coal will complicate the ability of our military to defend our country. The first, Ike Skelton’s point of view, is that the effects of climate change will increasingly destabilize countries around the world as severe storms, increased disease vectors and drought wreak havoc on the abilities of local governments to keep their citizens safe and healthy. More destabilization increases the chances our military will be deployed to help restore order, protect American citizens, and/or provide humanitarian relief.

The second affects the military budget. If gasoline shoots up to $4 or $5 a gallon, as seems entirely possible once the world economic recovery is well under way, the United States military will spend an additional $1.3 billion a year on gasoline alone. That’s money that doesn’t go to caring for wounded veterans, replacing worn-out equipment, updating housing, recruiting additional soldiers to relieve the strain on units who have faced multiple tours overseas, or any number of other worthy expenditures. The US Navy spends upwards of $28 billion a year to make sure shipping lanes are protected and oil supplies are secured. And additional time, money, and logistical support are needed any time a major storm hits coastal bases in the Gulf Coast or the Indian or Pacific Ocean, something that will only occur more often with a warmer climate. All of these are costs that force the military to make do with less in other areas.

I also had the chance to speak to James Whitaker, Operation Free’s field director here in Missouri. He’s got deep connections to the state, having grown up here and attended Mizzou and with family in Kansas City. His roots in the military go all the way back to his grandfather’s service. James stressed to me that military planners and many in the intelligence community have worried about climate change for years. He’s excited about getting some events going here in Missouri, so look forward to hearing more from him soon.