Dan Coats, serving as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), clashed with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over his assessment of the risk posed by climate change to national security at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 23, 2017.
Former diplomat Coats was appointed to the cabinet-level position by President Trump in 2017. Coats has previously served as a Republican Senator for Indiana on two occasions (1989–99; 2011–17). He is known for his conservative views on social issues. In 1993, he was partly responsible for the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that effectively prohibited openly gay men and women from serving in the U.S. armed forces. Coats has also sought to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the past, holding climate-skeptic views that are known to be shared by President Trump.
In the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked Coats if he shared the opinion that climate change could potentially act as “threat multiplier” when combined with other threats to national security. Warren then proceeded to reel off the findings of research that could indicate that climate change is set to be a major variable in levels of global insecurity over the coming decades.
In reply, Coats showed himself reluctant to subscribe to Warrens assertions. He said: “I don’t know if I would describe it as a threat multiplier. There have always, in the history of the world, been reactions to different climate changes, and that is an issue that continues.”
Clearly annoyed, Warren replied that climate change represents a “threat to international peace and security” and implored Coats to “take [climate change] seriously.”
Warren’s stance on climate change has stiffened in recent years. She has pushed for senior figures within the Trump administration to pay more heed to the overwhelming scientific evidence that points to the increasing role that reducing climate change should be playing in government policy decisions. In recent times, Warren has been a vocal opponent of the fossil fuel extraction industry and has proposed that one-third of U.S. coal power plants should be closed by 2020.
Time will tell whether Coats’ relaxed attitude toward the impact of climate change will prove to have a negative impact on national security. However, those who were already concerned that the security threat posed by climate change is being underplayed by government will be dismayed by these latest comments from the DNI.