The Center for Climate and Security (CCS) is growing, and we’re excited to announce the newest additions to our team—program assistants Elsa Barron and Brigitte Hugh. As we enter a new year with lots to cover on climate and security, we wanted to start with a few introductions.
CCS: Where are you from?
Elsa Barron (EB): Wheaton, IL, just west of Chicago. Home of the 11,000-year-old Perry Mastodon.
Brigitte Hugh (BH): Layton, UT, which lies just north of Salt Lake City. We do not have a Mastodon, but there are some great mountains.
CCS: What is your favorite climate-related book you’ve read in the past few years?
EB: One of the most real and challenging books I’ve read about the climate crisis in the past few years is Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton. What starts as a reflection on the certainty of death Scranton experienced during the war in Iraq concludes by encouraging us to let go of civilization as we know it and find the things worth holding on to. The weight of climate change hits full force in this book, yet it still inspires a kind of resilient hope.
BH: There are so many that have challenged and informed me, but I think my most recent favorite is All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. The book is a collection of essays and poems written by women at the forefront of the climate movement and edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. I read it incredibly slowly, savoring it over several weeks, and it gave me even more hope and ideas for my own activism and action.
CCS: Why do you think climate change is a national security issue?
EB: I think climate change is a national security issue because, using Sherri Goodman’s original term, it is a threat multiplier for a wide range of security risks. From intensifying natural disasters to increasing the risk for new pandemics, climate change is shaping the security landscape of today. Without addressing it, the United States will be faced with unprecedented challenges alongside the rest of the world as we weather intensifying climate risk and dangerous ecosystem tipping points.
BH: Throughout both my degrees I developed an expertise on Iraq—specifically the Kurdish population in the north. As I researched national security-related questions, it became incredibly clear that there is no predicting the future of conflict or stability in Iraq—or for that matter globally—without a climate lens. It will increasingly color every aspect of life, politics, and conflict around the world. So, in my opinion, any discussion of national security without considering climate change impacts is woefully, and dangerously, incomplete.
CCS: What is one climate security issue you’re most concerned about?
EB: One climate security issue that I find extremely pressing is climate-induced migration. As more communities face threats and damage to their homes and livelihoods, climate-induced migration is becoming widespread. Yet, we don’t have clear pathways for facilitating peaceful climate migration, and the risks of increased human movement are multifaceted. Not only are migrants at greater risk of violence and exploitation on an individual level, but also large population movements can challenge peace at a national or regional level, causing serious threats to both national and human security. Further, there is a need to be thinking about how to preserve cultural identities and their relationship to the environment for populations at risk of losing their homelands (e.g. pacific island nations facing sea-level rise).
BH: I worry about the marginalization of vulnerable populations a lot. Climate change impacts may provide opportunities for unprepared governments to use vulnerable populations as scapegoats for impacts that could have been better mitigated. For instance, last summer Turkey used huge wildfires, made worse by a changed climate, as an excuse to blame a minority group (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)) for their own administrative missteps. Because we know that climate change will hit the poorest and most vulnerable groups the worst, we’ll more than likely see similar climate-unprepared governments seeking scapegoats—whether they be already oppressed minority groups, such as the Kurds in Turkey, or the migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled both conflict and climate impacts.
CCS: What is one climate security opportunity that you’re most excited about?
EB: I am excited about the opportunity that climate preparedness and action provide for building peace and ensuring justice around the world. From collaboration at the international level all the way down to local communities (which I have experienced first-hand as a community organizer), the universal threat of climate change provides an opportunity to come together to re-imagine and create a more peaceful, just, and secure world.
BH: The momentum building in the US and globally for climate security analysis and action is so exciting to me. I did my first internship in climate security in 2019 when “climate emergency” was the word of the year because the climate conversation was spreading like wildfire. In the intervening years, we’ve managed to take that conversation and turn it into more concrete action, especially in climate security. In 2021, we saw this manifest in a whole slew of national security reports on climate from the Biden Administration, and in the pledges and announcements made at COP26. I’m excited to be part of the continued forward momentum of ingraining climate considerations into every thought process and action plan in the security community.
Elsa Barron holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a supplementary major in Peace Studies and a minor in sustainability from the University of Notre Dame. She joined the CCS team in January 2022.
Brigitte Hugh holds a Master of Science in Political Science, Anticipatory Intelligence and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Utah State University. She joined CCS in December 2021.