As hurricanes become more intense, flooding more common and wildfires more deadly, Americans — regardless of their party affiliation — are dying from extreme weather events and are seeing their livelihoods damaged. The searing experience of Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017 might not have prompted Republican politicians to fight “climate change," but perhaps they can have a rational conversation about “rising ocean levels.” Moreover, climate change deniers may be a lot more receptive when a former general or former admiral tells them what climate change is doing in the real world, rather than getting the very same information from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Consider former defense secretary Jim Mattis’s interview on Thursday with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. "I will say that climate change, I believe, is a reality,” Mattis said. “We are dealing with open waters where it used to be ice fields, that we have to deal with.” If Republicans are nervous about mass migration, consider, as Mattis does, that climate change is a “national security issue because when people have to leave devastated areas, and move elsewhere, the refugee flows, all the humanitarian effort that goes into it, the willingness of some people to take advantage of those people, terrorists in particular, and recruit from them because they feel a loss of hope, it’s a reality we’re going to have to deal with.”
Mattis also posits, "I’m not going to talk to people who believe in climate change right now, but for those who are adamant there’s no climate change, you look at the receding sea ice and have different explanations, why wouldn’t we take out an insurance policy and do prudent steps to make certain the generation that’s coming up is not going to be caught flat-footed by this?” (This is the argument former secretary of state George P. Shultz, Mattis’s colleague at the Hoover Institution, deploys.)
Perhaps in their post-service years, former national security officials can get together in a campaign to educate Americans about the national security threats associated with climate change. These are the sorts of people who write books and give speeches about terrorism, Russia and every other national security challenge. They’d be ideal messengers to communicate a no-nonsense message to the heartland about climate change.
The willfully obtuse will simply write this off as the deep state’s propaganda machine. However, consider right-wing pugilists such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who claim to be concerned about mass migration, national security and terrorism. Making it more difficult to wave off climate change as a progressive plot against capitalism may make it easier to peel off more rational Republicans and embarrass conservatives who claim to be the military’s best friends and the toughest proponents of border security.
And consider the network someone such as Mattis could rely upon to carry the message into every town and farm community — the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other community-based groups concerned about national security.
Those concerned about climate change need to think a lot more creatively about who the best messengers are and which messages are most effectively received in red America. That means bringing along a good chunk of the country, not ridiculing them for their previous ignorance.