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'Age of Consequences': Climate Change as National Security Risk

Climate change is frequently portrayed in scientific terms.

But how does the military see the issue?

"The Age of Consequences," the latest work by documentary filmmaker Jared P. Scott, taps retired military leaders and diplomats for their views regarding the effects of climate change on global unrest and, in turn, how that affects the United States.

Scott, 36, a graduate of Upper Arlington High School now living in New York City, wrote and directed the film, which will be screened tonight at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH. Scott will attend the screening and then conduct a question-and-answer session.

"We often put climate change in an environmental box, but it's really a security issue," Scott said. "It's also a moral issue, a health issue and an economic issue. But we wanted to focus on climate change as a national security issue.

"In the United States, . . . it has been talked about for a long time and it's been Department of Defense policy for a long time. It's been in bedrock documents in the Bush administration and the Obama administration."

THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES - THEATRICAL TRAILER by PF Pictures

From a military and policy standpoint, climate change had been identified as a contributing factor to civil distress. In Syria, for example, long-term drought drove farmers to the cities to look for work. There, the refugees, coupled with an influx of Iraqis who fled to escape war in their homeland, created demand for food and housing, causing the price of both to rise, leaving poor fathers unable to care for families.

Among those frustrated men, rebel forces and terror groups found a fertile recruiting ground.

"As anyone can tell you, a bunch of unemployed young men in a major city is not a recipe for social stability," Michael Breen says in the movie. Breen is a former Army captain and current CEO of the Truman National Security Project, which seeks innovative solutions to national and international problems.

Worldwide in 2015, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, 65.3 million people were displaced. Many desperate refugees from the Middle East and Africa have flooded Europe.

"If you have large numbers of displaced people, and their needs are not being met, then this becomes a potential for instability," retired Rear Adm. David Titley, who led the Navy Task Force on Climate Change, says in the movie.

In 2010, the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review identified climate change as "an accelerant of instability or conflict." By 2015, the National Security Strategy prepared by the Obama administration included climate change as one of eight top strategic risks, alongside terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"The military gets this," Scott said. "Their job is to look at facts. When you have a risk of a terrorist attack or a nuclear strike, you do everything in your power to negate the risk. Same thing with climate change."

The United States doesn't go unscathed. The film looks at the breakdown in government services during catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy and speculates on the results if several such disasters hit simultaneously.

"The thought that climate might be part of the recipe of those disasters, that should alarm us," Scott said.

Scott didn't feature politicians in the documentary.

"We didn't want it to be political," he said. "We wanted to keep it nonpartisan. If we were to interview a high-ranking Democrat or high-ranking Republican, it would take on political connotations."

The film urges the advancement of alternative-energy sources before the situation becomes desperate. As Titley noted in the movie: "We did not end the Stone Age because we ran out of stones. We found something better."

Scott hopes the movie opens the eyes of viewers to the idea of climate change affecting national security.

"Most people walk out and say, 'I never thought about this before, and now I can't stop thinking about it.' Once you see it, that makes sense," he said. "It's compelling and supported by respected men and women."

He added: "I hope it's an olive branch for wherever you are on the political spectrum. I hope people can have a kitchen-table conversation about it."

tmikesel@dispatch.com

@terrymikesell ___

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