U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry was at Norfolk's Old Dominion University to talk about climate change, saying it is also a potential threat to national security.
Kerry shared that as a former member of the Navy, he was deployed in Southeast Asia, stationed in Vietnam specifically during his second tour. He was assigned as a patrol boat skipper and that brought him to the waterways of the Mekong Delta. He wasn't in the country under complicated circumstances but he could never forget how struck he was by the incredible beauty of the delta and its role in commerce and daily life.
He returned to Vietnam when he became Secretary of State and was able to enjoy Mekong on a more personal level. However, he hasn't forgotten what he realized back in the day and has come to Norfolk to tell people that the future of the world depends on what global communities do to address climate change challenges.
Kerry said that he's always been an environmentalist but that's not the reason why he's choosing to focus on problems with the environment in his current role. Instead, it's because he realizes that threats to the environment are also threats to the security of the U.S. and other countries around the world.
"If our military vehicles are unable to move anywhere in the region here or elsewhere because they're up to their axles in water and all the roads leading into and out of the base here are flooded, that affects military readiness," he said.
Other threats Kerry cited include wildfires putting troops training with live ammunition at risk and a melting permafrost endangering bases in Alaska, but he said these direct impacts to military ability are just the beginning of what climate change could pose against U.S. national security.
The Secretary of State used Syria as an example, saying that it was not coincidence that just before its civil war broke out, the country experienced its worst drought on record. This prompted up to 1.5 million from Syria's farmlands to troop to the country's cities, intensifying political unrest.
Aside from ecological challenges, political and social consequences have to be part of what the U.S. prepares for when addressing climate change, said Kerry.