The hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, like the missiles of October 1962 and the hijacked airplanes of September 2001, were seen by many people as signs of the apocalypse. The slow-moving satellite pictures of swirling masses provided references for impending doom. When the storms hit land, their furious winds contained the sum of all fears, and, in seconds, countless things accumulated in finite lives were soaked and blown away. Parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, in short, became war zones.
Although these hurricanes took fewer than two hundred American lives, the damage was akin to an invader's path of destruction. For the civilians, the logical response was to evacuate. Climate change, many of them accepted, was as obvious a threat to their security as nuclear war and international terrorism. Warmer oceans, they heard, were the fuel for superstorms.
Our national security agencies, in fact, have long been concerned with the threats from hurricanes and other environmental disruptions. Writing with appropriate caution, the National Research Council warned in 2013 that climate change could exacerbate stresses throughout the world, with serious dangers to the United States.
The NRC noted, for instance, that changes in the flow of the Nile River could destabilize Egypt, an important American ally and an anchor of peace in the Middle East, and intensify tensions over water usage between Egypt and its neighbors. Likewise, unstable Pakistan was described as "one of the most water-stressed countries in the world." Water scarcity there inflamed the antagonism between Pakistan and India, both nuclear-armed powers.
Forced migration was another topic for the NRC. It admitted that proof of a direct causal relationship between climate change and mass migration is elusive. Yet the links seem reasonably clear.
Even if climate change is not certain, it is irresponsible for American policymakers to put off contingency plans for a hotter planet. Something needs to be done. And for leadership, we look to President Donald Trump.
Just as it took Richard Nixon, a staunch Cold Warrior, to open up relations with Communist China, it will take a conservative President to make a compelling case for the environment. When environmental causes are spearheaded by an Al Gore or a Bernie Sanders, they come across as unconcerned with the repercussions for American industry and its workers. Trump is better positioned to build consensus. He can lay out the connections between environmental degradation and war, terrorism, and disruptive migration.
We are law professors, not climate scientists. Still, we wonder if it is a mere coincidence, for example, that civil war rages in Yemen while drinkable water disappears. Or that Africans who migrate to Europe often come from places that cannot sustain enough food for all the people there.
Trump has been remarkably flexible in how he builds support for his policies. Witness his recent deal-making with Chuck and Nancy. His environmental leadership could thus start with a simple Tweet: "We need to consider this climate thing. Important."
We are not asking Trump to abandon campaign promises. Our proposal is more supplement than substitute. During our government careers, we advised officials in the military, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement. We hope that some of these officials, current and former, amplify the call for an ecological strategy. Women and men in uniforms can replace the standard images of environmentalists in sandals, tie-dyed shirts, and bandanas. And, as illustrated by the corporate lobbying against President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris environmental agreement, many people in suits and ties are ready to devote time and dollars toward environmental issues.
So, Trump has an opportunity to co-opt part of the Democratic agenda--or to become bipartisan on another issue. His own Republican Party provides him a model.
Teddy Roosevelt is the man for Trump. The Rough Riding Republican loved hiking and hunting in remote places. This privileged son of a rich New York City aristocrat, a short man with thick glasses, forged himself from city slicker into cowboy badass. He became the man who stormed any hill, the original Westerner. Ahead of his time, Roosevelt was a progressive, a builder of new coalitions, who protected national parks, while busting trusts, building the Panama Canal, and establishing the United States as a world force.
We can't think of any former president more suitable to Trump than Teddy. The security of a nation Trump obviously loves, together with the protection of an endangered planet, require nothing less than Teddy's bold style and substance.
John Radsan is a professor of law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and previously served as a federal prosecutor and assistant general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency. Robert Delahunty is the LeJeune Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and served as the Deputy General Counsel with the White House Office of Homeland Security from 2002-03.
Suggested citation:John Radsan and Robert Delahunty, The Hurricanes of September, JURIST — Academic Commentary, Oct. 3, 2017, http://jurist.org/academic/2017/10/radsan-delahunty-hurricanes-trump.php.