Climate change activists carry signs as they march during a protest in downtown on Sunday, July 24, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Democratic National Convention starts Monday in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Trump Admits Climate Change is Real—But Only So He Can Terrorize the Global South

Last week, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing a $700 billion budget for the Department of Defense for the coming fiscal year. Unsurprisingly, the bill calls for an increase in troops and military resources. The real shocker comes at section 335 of the bill, which recognizes that climate change is real—but only to justify military action and terrorize the Global South.

Up until this point, Trump’s track record on climate change has been disastrous. 45 himself has called global warming a “hoax” and implied that “nobody really knows” if climate change is real. His Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Secretary said he doesn’t believe in man-made climate change and deleted mentions of climate change from agency websites. In June, Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country in the world not part of the climate pact. In October, his administration repealed the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era effort that required the U.S. to reduce its carbon emissions. And if all that isn’t enough, while the rest of the world focused on reaching its shared greenhouse gas reduction goals at the United Nations climate talks last month, the U.S. delegation promoted fossil fuels.

It’s no coincidence that the Trump administration’s first serious mention of climate change is latched onto a defense and military spending bill. His administration isn’t addressing climate change because it threatens human rights, including access to water, food, and housing—climate change is included in the bill because it’s a “security situation.” In Section 335, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is quoted stating:

Many countries will encounter climate-induced disruptions—such as weather-related disasters, drought, famine, or damage to infrastructure—that stress their capacity to respond, cope with, or adapt. Climate-related impacts will also contribute to increased migration, which can be particularly disruptive if, for example, demand for food and shelter outstrips the resources available to assist those in need.

Speaking to the press after signing the bill, Trump linked the need for more military funding to terrorist attacks “carried out by foreign nationals, here on green cards.” Citing attempted attacks in New York City, Trump said the “National Defense Authorization Act could not come at a more opportune or important time” and called for closed borders and an end to “chain migration.” According to Trump, migrants wreak destruction and threaten domestic security. Climate change, which leaves people without homes and without means to survive, will only make matters worse (for white people). It’s clear then that climate change is finally being mentioned by the Trump administration because it is connected to migrants and brown people identified as potential “terrorists,” “invaders,” and “intruders.” 

The intelligence officials and military officers cited in section 335 of the bill “found that climate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world.” But there is no mention of U.S. policies that contributed to climate-related instability, including migration, civil conflict, and poverty. There is no recognition of the fact that the United States’ continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of fossil fuels further exacerbates environmental problems in the Global South. While the report suggests that climate change related droughts and famines will lead to “more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations,” there is no mention of the ways the National Defense Authorization Act itself and U.S.-led military occupation, invasion, and aggression creates “failed states” and destroys families and communities.

As I was writing this, the Trump administration announced it will drop climate change from a list of global threats. The Guardian reports this marks a shift away from the Obama administration’s approach, which identified climate change as one of the main threats facing the US. This is important for two reasons: first, Trump isn’t the first to weaponize climate change for militaristic reasons (Obama did this too!). Second, it’s a reminder 45 will contradict himself and backpedal on issues without thinking twice, as long as it serves his interests. We have to remain vigilant and keep a watch on the ways Trump both weaponizes and denies climate change to justify state-sponsored violence and military aggression abroad and domestically. 

To be clear: for Trump, this isn’t an environmental justice or human rights issue. It’s an invitation to further militarize our borders, intervene in the Global South, and stop the flow of migrants to the United States. In signing the National Defense Authorization Act, the administration has finally acknowledged that climate change is real and urgent—but with significant costs. It’s crucial that climate change activists (looking at you, white people) reject this framing, even if it comes with money, resources, and government acceptance. Just as women of color have challenged the colorblind rhetoric of white feminism and Black queer folks have called out the marriage equality campaign for its erasure of life-and-death issues they face daily, it’s important that those of us committed to climate justice reject Trump’s strategy.

Using a national security framework to call for climate justice is a failed, racist, and xenophobic strategy. In fighting for climate justice, let’s reject this approach and rather, link climate justice to struggles for indigenous sovereignty, anti-imperialism, and racial justice.

Header image via

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Read more about Barbara

Join the Conversation