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By Megan Cooley

Megan CooleyBernie Sanders stated that climate change is our biggest threat to national security. Really? This was not obvious to me when he stated this in one of the first presidential debates. When climate change was first proposed it was quite controversial. The January 28 edition of Nature’s International Weekly Journal of Science has several articles on climate change, drawing more attention to this ever-growing global crisis. The threat to national security is two-fold. The first is the effect of climate change on the introduction of new diseases to the U.S. The second is the effect of climate change on the depletion of natural resources, which will cause displacement of populations straining resources in the U.S.

Pharmaceutical companies have been addressing the effect of climate change from an allergy and disease standpoint with the development of new medications and vaccines to treat illnesses that have been previously associated with more tropical climates. Companies, such as Bayer and Pfizer, have also made strides in reducing their carbon footprints, by implementing “greener” structures that help to reduce carbon emissions and by integrating green chemistry into their manufacturing processes. In order to continue to reduce both industrial and individual carbon footprints, we need to consider our investment in renewable energies.

MRIGlobal is a one of two companies that manages and operates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the only federal laboratory dedicated to researching and deploying renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. Recently the new director of NREL, Martin Keller, Ph.D., gave a seminar at MRIGlobal headquarters focusing on the efforts being made by NREL to advance alternative energies. The work being conducted at NREL is focused largely on improving solar and wind technologies. According to analyses performed at NREL and MRIGlobal, the U.S. is producing less than one percent of what we are capable of producing with respect to both solar and wind energy. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Energy has invested heavily in solar technologies, thereby increasing utilization and creating jobs.

Let me pose a situation that Keller discussed after his seminar that may shed more light on how depletion of natural resources could be a threat to national security. Currently in India, sea levels are rising in the south, and glaciers are melting in the north. India is the most heavily populated country in the world. Eventually the strain on the environment will cause the already crowded population to consolidate into a significantly smaller space. Immigration to other countries with available resources will occur to compensate. As Keller so eloquently put it, we have to learn to live within our means. It is not fair to continue to rely on the investments of previous generations to sustain us (i.e., fossil fuels). We can take advantage of renewable energies that are available to us today and tomorrow to reduce greenhouse emissions and allow us to preserve natural resources.

This is not a call to doomsday. It’s a call to think about the issues that we will face in 20 years as a result of the choices that we make tomorrow. If we choose to invest in renewable energies, we have the opportunity to diminish climate change and, in turn, reduce strains on natural resources. Ultimately, these choices would help control immigration and reduce countries’ susceptibility to new diseases.

Megan Cooley is not authorized to speak on behalf of MRIGlobal, and the opinions expressed are my personal opinions and not those of MRIGlobal.

Megan Cooley, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Her research is focused on understanding the effects of the tumor microenvironment on acquired chemoresistance and metastasis.