Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an opinion piece written by Joshua Busby, an assistant professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Americans witnessed what looked like an overseas humanitarian-relief operation. The storm destroyed much of the city, causing more than $80 billion in damage, killing more than 1,800 people, and displacing in excess of 270,000. The country suddenly had to divert its attention and military resources to respond to a domestic emergency. While scientists do not attribute single events to global warming, the storm gave Americans a visual image of what climate change — which scientists believe will likely exacerbate the severity and number of extreme weather events — might mean for the future. The large, heavily populated coastal areas of the United States are vulnerable to these kinds of extreme weather events, suggesting homeland security will require readiness against climate change. Moreover, scientists tell us that poor countries in the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia, are the most vulnerable. They are likely to be hit hardest by climate change, potentially putting hundreds of thousands of people on the move from climate change-related storms, floods and droughts. In such circumstances, outside militaries may be called on to prevent humanitarian tragedies and broader disorder.
The Washington Post