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Why climate change is more perilous to our national security than Syrian refugees 

Is it any surprise that Gov. Pat McCrory wants to halt the flow of Syrian refugees to North Carolina following the Paris attacks?

There's not actually a flow, of course, just a trickle, amounting to two refugees a month. But McCrory's understanding of the issue consists of Republican talking points. His ability to think for himself is slight. So, you know, bless his heart.

Nonetheless, the N.C. Democratic Party ripped McCrory last Wednesday for "giving demagogue interviews" on U.S. refugee policy. Kimberly Reynolds, the party's executive director, seemed unaware that Attorney General Roy Cooper was about to join the governor.

Cooper is, of course, the leading Democratic candidate for governor.

"As chief law enforcement officer of North Carolina," Cooper announced, "I support asking the federal government to pause refugee entries to make sure we have the most effective screening process possible."

His craven statement came from Cooper's campaign office, not from the N.C. Department of Justice, the law enforcement agency he heads. Perhaps Cooper recognized that sinking to McCrory's level was about something other than justice.

Cooper should've paused to study what Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, had written in The Charlotte Observer. Price, who sits on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, explained how exacting the refugee-screening process already is, and how closely we vet those fleeing from war zones.

"The notion that refugee settlement poses a national security threat may resonate politically," Price wrote, "but it's deeply misleading."

Thank you, Congressman Price.

For the record, Cooper's opponent for the Democratic nomination, Durham lawyer Ken Spaulding, did better. While also putting security first, Spaulding hit McCrory for wanting to bar "children and mothers ... running for their lives from ruthless dictators and ISIS killers."

But I want to turn to the upcoming summit on climate change, which by a twist of fate will also take place in Paris. Elsewhere in the INDY, Letters to the Future speak to the environmental imperative. My point is that, even if the summit succeeds, the world's refugee crises are only beginning. If it fails and we don't alter the arc of global warming quickly, a geopolitical catastrophe looms—and terrorism on a massive scale.

Going into the summit, three things are clear.

One is that climate change is making life unbearable in the hottest regions of the planet, including parts of the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa—all places where Islam is the predominant religion.

The second is that wrenching poverty in these regions, exacerbated by the droughts associated with global warming, is helping to fuel civil wars, criminal gangs, terrorism—while feudal, despotic governments, if they haven't fallen yet, are on the verge of collapse.

The third: That the so-called war on terror cannot be won with bombs.

Bombs toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, but the result for both countries is a lawless vacuum in which ISIS, Al Qaeda affiliates and other terrorist groups thrive.

One reason Syria has been ripped apart is a severe drought that began in 2006, causing widespread crop and livestock failures. Millions fled from the countryside to the outskirts of Damascus and other cities, where they live in slums, without jobs or hope. The slums are fertile ground for ISIS fighters.

Much the same is true in Mali, where grasslands have turned into deserts, and the nomadic Tuaregs, Berber-speaking Muslims, launched a civil war against the Christian-dominated central government. Al Qaeda is recruiting there. Elsewhere in Africa, it's Boko Haram.

My sources here include Michael Klare, author of The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources and a prolific writer on the impacts of climate change. In a prescient article for the website TomDispatch.com, before the recent Paris and Mali attacks, Klare suggested that we "consider the events in Syria and Mali previews of what is likely to come in this century on a far larger scale.

"As climate change intensifies, bringing not just desertification but rising sea levels in low-lying coastal areas and increasingly devastating heat waves in regions that are already hot," Klare wrote, "ever more parts of the planet will be rendered less habitable, pushing millions of people into desperate flight."

For the foreseeable future, the U.S. and Europe face a stark choice. We can give humanitarian aid to the victims—the refugees—and make room within our borders for those who can't go home. Or, we can shut them out while we bomb the terrorists into oblivion. Except that collateral damage from our bombs means more victims die than bad guys. And from the despair, new bad guys are spawned.

France is choosing the first path, welcoming 30,000 Syrian refugees in defiance of ISIS. Here, President Obama's paltry pledge to take in 10,000 is under attack by the likes of Pat McCrory, while too many Roy Coopers run scared.

Pandering to fears about terrorists may be smart politics in the short run. But long term, it tells the Islamic world that the terrorists are right to call us their enemy. And right to wage war against us.

It's also a betrayal of our ideals. As Iraq veteran Phil Klay, the author of Redeployment, said in a series of tweets last week denouncing our spineless politicians: "I get it that people are scared. ... But it's only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself 'the home of the brave.'"

This article appeared in print with the headline "The most dangerous (political) game"

  • We're freaking out over the wrong thing

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