Admiral to speak at Beaver Creek event
August 4, 2010
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – When the public and politicians debate climate change, it usually focuses on increasing renewable energy, reducing fossil fuel emissions and saving wildlife habitats. But when Adm. William J. Fallon talks climate change, he doesn’t make pleas for polar bears. He warns how climate change is a direct threat to our national security.Consequences of climate change – like rising temperatures, surging sea levels and melting glaciers – will affect national security on many different levels, Fallon says. In some cases, changes in the Earth’s climate will exasperate existing world problems, like terrorism, poverty and poor health. In other cases, climate change will create a whole new set of issues to which the world will have to adapt, like new geographic realities. The potential for an increase in commercial and military activities in the Arctic, as frozen areas become open water, is a prime example. New climate conditions will trigger human migration, as well, Admiral Fallon says. People in search of clean water, food and shelter – climate refugees – will then stress border control, including along America’s borders. In Asia, the melting of Himalayan glaciers jeopardizes fresh water supplies for billions of people dependent on the rivers that feed from it. In North America, agriculture may be disrupted due to a rise in temperatures and a shift in weather patterns.Fallon will talk about the effects climate change will have on national security – and the subsequent role America should take – as special guest at the second annual EverGreen Ball Aug. 14 at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. The EverGreen Ball is a fundraiser for The Eagle Valley Land Trust, the Eagle River Watershed Council and the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. A “sustainable soiree,” the ball’s mission is to increase awareness of sustainable living and land and water conservation through a creative, low-impact green gala. Fallon aligns quite well with event’s mission. When he talks about climate change, Fallon emphasizes the adverse effects that the disappearance of land, and especially, water will have on the world’s security – outcomes the event’s beneficiaries work hard year-round to avert.”As the influences of climate change and the things that are causing that change come to bear in the world’s environment, it has a direct influence on people and their behaviors,” Fallon says. “And so we end up with frictions and fights, and we tend to focus on things like oil, a commodity we use to power our lives for energy and transportation and other things, but far more valuable to us is water, and I think water supply is the most fundamental issue in the world today.”
Fallon’s opinion and predictions for climate change stem from a convergence of both personal and professional life experiences, he says. Nature and the elements, weather and climate have always fascinated Fallon. A self-described “weather geek,” as a young boy he would track the weather daily and pore over reports issued by the National Weather Service.”I thought that I might become a weatherman. That’s kind of what I had in mind as my profession,” Fallon says.But Fallon went into the Navy, participating in many vital U.S. military operations during the Cold War and serving as a combat aviator, flying from an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. Most recently, he was head of U.S. Central Command, and he directed all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and Horn of Africa, focusing on combat efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He led the U.S. Pacific Command for two years, as well, directing political-military activities in the Asia-Pacific region. He retired from the U.S Navy after 41 years in 2008.As a Naviator, his acute interest in weather and climate shifted from fascination to necessity. You have to know what weather to expect just to stay alive, among other things, Fallon says. “And as I had to deal with issues around the world involving security, people and nations, it became pretty apparent to me that the environment has a huge influence on events transpiring around the world,” Fallon says. “I see lots of connections between things we often take for granted, like air and water, the trees around us, and when people don’t have many of these things, we end up in problematic situations.”He points the Middle East as example of how climate can have profound negative effects. The region’s lack of water, and overall poor quality of life due to lack of natural resources, is an opportunity for terrorist regimes to recruit, he says, promising desparate citizens a better life.”Climate change is just going to exasperate the problem,” Fallon says.
His Naval career has afforded him the opportunity to travel to virtually every place in the world, including the Arctic and Antarctic, where he witnessed a “tremendous amount” of melting of the ice caps and glaciersAt the EverGreen Ball, he will address two issues caused by the melting , problems rarely covered by mainstream media, he says. As the melting continues in the Arctic, frozen areas become open water along Northern Canada and on the northern part of Russia, creating some “pretty interesting geo-political issues,” Fallon says.”So, on the good news side, there may be more convenient ways to travel between the places. On the other hand, with the push and demand for raw materials, particularly energy, oil and gas, the attractiveness of these areas for development is going to be pretty appealing, unless we can figure out a way to get ourselves off our current energy dependence kick,” Fallon says.As the sea-ice in the Antarctic disappears, so does the habitat for millions and millions of little shrimp-like creatures, called krill, which are the primary food source for not only the great whales, but also virtually every kind of fish life in the southern oceans, Fallon says.”Krill are the absolute foundation of the food chain worldwide. You can start extrapolating as to what this is going to mean if this stuff disappears,” Fallon says. “These are big picture movers. So we talk about world food supply, the amount of sustenance that people get from the sea. People talk about over fishing in the Northern Hemisphere. You haven’t seen anything yet if this degradation of the bottom of the food chain continues.”
So what’s the solution? Fallon isn’t exactly sure, but he serves on the American Security Project’s board, an organization that addresses national security implications of climate change, and co-chairs the Center for Strategic & International Studies Commission on Smart Global Health Policy, to help solve some of the arising problems. There is one thing that Fallon is most sure about: It’s going to take American leadership to curb climate change.”As Americans we get fired up, and we get involved and don’t shy away from challenges. And that’s not a common commodity in many parts of the world. If there’s going to be a difference, we ought to make it,” Fallon says. “And by the way, we are the biggest consumers of energy sources in the world, so it’s really our responsibility. We need to be the leaders. And frankly, my experience in the world is that others expect us to lead.”In Fallon’s mind, this means leading the world in renewable energy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which is going to take policy change and cooperation between the two political parties, something that he sees as a major hurdle for environmental progress. But it’s also going to take a change of habits among the American people, he says.”People have to be willing to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I’m part of the problem, let’s be part of the solution.'” Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. She also helps to organize the EverGreen Ball.