Lt. General Dirk Jameson: Climate Change Opposes Immediate, Intensifying Threats To U.S. National Security

"We know the costs in terms of human life, and the fragility of the region, and all of those things. So the climate change rise in temperatures was related to the drought. The drought was related to a forced migration, which in turn was related to a civil war. And, so these kinds of things repeat themselves." - Lt. General Jameson

Lt. General Dirk Jameson served in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades before retiring in 1996, and has since held a number of private sector leadership positions. General Jameson is now a senior advisor to the center for climate and security in Washington DC.

Emy diGrappa (00:00):

Hello, my name is Emy diGrappa. Each week we bring you stories, asking our guests the question, why. We learn about passion purpose and the human experience brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation. This is, What's Your Why.

                 Today we are talking to Lieutenant General, Dirk Jameson. He served in the U.S. air force for over three decades before retiring in 1996 and has since held a number of private sector leadership positions. General Jameson is a senior advisor to the Center for Climate Insecurity in Washington DC. Welcome General.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (00:54):

Thank you very much.

Emy diGrappa (00:56):

Well, before we get into questions about climate and security, I want to ask you, where did you grow up, first of all?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (01:04):

Well, I'm a Texan by birth and I know that we have such a wonderful relationship between Wyoming and Texas that I feel like I'm, uh, a dual citizen actually. So, but I, I was born in Texas. Uh, I left Texas after, um, grade school actually, because my dad was in the, in the military and we traveled the rest of my time until I went in the air force. And so, uh, I, I didn't come back to Texas until I completed my, my 33 years in the air force. And, and, uh, just by up and chance, happened to come back to Austin, Texas.

Emy diGrappa (01:47):

Well, what was your desire to... Was it your dad's influence that you, uh, entered into the air force and entered into military service?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (01:55):

I think so. Um, we had real variety of experiences as an air force family. Uh, if you call Guam as a freshman in high school and traveling to the Philippines and, and really just doing things that most 13 year olds or 14, 15 year olds get to do, like flying and through these Pacific islands to get to Guam or to take a troop ship to get to the Philippines. So, I think that, uh, um, I always admired what he did and he was surrounded by people that were genuine heroes, you know. He would, he would take me into the office of some ACE or some, I, I mean, a World War II or even a Korean war ACE. So, it was a, it, it, it, it was a call of, uh, of that kind of life that did it, I'm sure.

Emy diGrappa (02:48):

And so, when you entered into the air force, did you go to the, the air force academy or did you enter in another way?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (02:54):

No, I was ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Corps, and, uh, I, I've been told that that makes it unlikely that you can move up, but in my case, they must've, uh, forgotten about that.

Emy diGrappa (03:08):

(laughs). Well, that's because you must have been very excellent at what you did. So, speaking of that, how was it that you took a journey into, interest in climate change and national security?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (03:24):

That's a, that's a good question. I, I, when I finished my air force career, I wanted to stay, kind of, tuned in, you know, with what was going on in the air force in the military so I maintained my networks. And somewhere around 2002 or 2003, uh, one of my, um, young officers said that, that he'd worked for me, told me about, uh, a small group of, what we call, fast runners in the military. That meant these were people that was moving faster than their [inaudible 00:04:02]. And, uh, he was among those fast runners that had been pulled together in a small group in the Pentagon. And they were really thinking outside the box.

                 They were looking at the, at the, uh, global developments through the end of the, of the, uh, 21st century. So, it was, uh, and they told me what they were worried about. And among the things that they were worried about was the, uh, demand on resources, the, um, the emergence of greater need for energy. And, and, and then they mentioned in the middle of that, that the c- climate was changing, that they were looking at, at, uh, uh what the... In, in this case it was the air force, but I think the other services had, had, uh, were similar and probably about the same time.

                 And, uh, so they were worried about these things and that piqued my interest. Uh, and as that, um, began to become much more, uh, um, a subject of news and, uh, and concern, I just stayed with it and, and, um, we [inaudible 00:05:22] up with some people in something called, the American Security Project and then the center for climate and security. Uh, and, and I just have tried to stay involved in that just because I think it's important.

Emy diGrappa (05:35):

Well, when we talk about climate change, we usually discuss its impact on the environment and our food supply. So, a lot of times it's just considered an environmental issue, and most people don't realize it has other wide ranging effects, like the compromise of our national security. So, I kind of, would like you to paint a picture of what does it mean and how could the average person understand, how does it affect global security and stability?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (06:09):

And I should, full disclosure, say that I was a commander of the largest military installation in Wyoming and spent a number of pleasant years, mostly pleasant. Sometimes they were interrupted by days of real concern because of what might be going on, on, on the base or in the missile field. But I was a commander down at F.E Warren in Cheyenne. And so, um, it is easy, I guess, to kind of, extrapolate to the larger world in what's going on in climate change. We all know, and, and it's, it's really not worth talking about, that the, that the globe is warming and there are consequences of that, that we see daily.

                 And, uh, those involved... We might not recognize them on an, uh, on a specific day that something was beginning to happen, but we, we talk about, uh, in this, this arena, since like the Syrian war being, uh, more or less, um, the result of a long drought, which caused people to move from the rural areas into the cities in Syria. And it was the cause of unrest because, uh, uh, like 1.5 million people moving, which, more or less, uh, didn't cause the civil war, but it, it really set the conditions where they could happen and did happen.

                 And there, that's, uh, uh, maybe one good example because that, that has been going on for a long time. Now we know the costs in terms of human life and the uh, fragility of the region and all of those things. So, uh, the, the climate change rise in, uh, temperatures was related to the drought. The drought was related to a forced migration, which in turn, was related to a civil war. And, and so, these kinds of things repeat themselves. If we look at China, even today, uh, not China. Uh, I wanted to, to talk about Africa. And perhaps you are aware that Lake Chad, which is, uh, largest body of water in i- i- i- interior to Africa, has been drying up basically for the last 20 years.

                 It's, it's now only 10% of its previous size. And we have, I think people recognize if I were to say Boko Haram and the unrest and actual wars that have been going on there, the lack of water caused, again, migrations. Uh, that's another example. Or we can look in the Pacific where we've had major catastrophic weather events. There're typhoons, and they can, they can happen in the Bay of, of, uh, uh, of the [inaudible 00:09:20]. They can ha- ha- happen, uh, on the coastline of Bangladesh where the water, uh, level is almost at, at, uh, at the level of the countryside within, um, 18 inches, let's say. And these horrific weather events cause, again, people to either lose their food source-

Emy diGrappa (09:42):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (09:43):

... have to move, cause conflict with the next door neighbors who, uh, who are, you know, resistant and, and will fight over that sort of thing happening. Um, that's another example. There was a month, uh, two years ago where we had a, um, a, a couple of hurricanes in the United States. One was Florence and, and it's, it's in the Southeast and hit Camp Lejeune, a great big Marine base. It caused major damage, probably about three and a half billion dollars worth of damage. You can bet they're still repairing that, even though it's been that amount of time. Uh, within a month, we had wh- uh, hurricane Michael, which hit Tyndall Air Force Base where the air force had, uh, its, uh, largest contingent of F22s, one of our frontline fighters, very expensive airplane. And it just basically devastated the base causing, again, about four and a half billion dollars worth of damage.

                 And, and, and, and they're still recovering. Well, that same month we had typhoon, uh, Yutu in the Pacific with, uh, almost record level winds that just brushed Saipan and just barely missed Guam, where we have our largest base in the Pacific. We have Navy and air force, highly critical assets. And you've seen those ex- exercises. We've had various confrontations with North Korea and that sort of thing, it just missed. So, in that case, it didn't cause that huge amount of damage, but it was a very close call. And all I'm saying is that, these kinds of events are happening much more rapidly.

                 Uh, the military has always known it has to plan for these events and they, they, I think, work at various [inaudible 00:11:51]. Um, but I can take that, those kinds of examples rape in, into the Western part of the United States, if you wanna talk some basis there. Um, fortunately Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the, the, uh, base there and the, and the high value assets we've had there, haven't been hit with something like that. But I happened to have been at the base on August the first, 1985, when we had a horrendous flood and it caused a lot of damage. Now, it wasn't on the same catastrophic level that I, uh, that some of these other examples are, but I guarantee you that it's not gonna get better. I'm sorry. I wish I could say it was.

Emy diGrappa (12:37):

When you talk about National Security and what effect that has on us, and I'm not just talking about us as the world. I'm talking about us as the United States. How is it that because bases and, um, major military bases are damaged, that they become inoperable?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (12:59):

Well, they certainly can be out of action for some period of time. We're very good at, uh, rebuilding. We got to acknowledge the cost. We have to acknowledge how that may affect our ability to fight on a given timeline. Again, um, might, we might move up the East Coast to Norfolk and talk about that huge Navy installation there, where our aircraft carriers recycle and, and after long tours and get replenished and all that. And the effect of, uh, hurricane Sandy are rising sea levels. I was just sadly reading about the event in Antarctica, where the temperature reached an all time high last month, over 70 degrees where a massive amount of water, uh, ice melted. And it turns out that the Antarctic is melting faster than the Arctic.

                 The fact that the Arctic is melting and creating a free passage, well, not free, but a passage way that hasn't existed, is causing all kinds of security concerns. The Russians are very active in trying to position themselves to take advantage of the vast resources that are being unlocked in the Arctic and other countries are as well. We have major responsibilities for playing in that, in that new development up there. And then, if you look over at the, at the, at the shoreline, and I hate to say this, but Alaska has been on fire, the Tundra is melting.

Emy diGrappa (14:47):

That's extreme.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (14:47):

I, I, um, I, I, I'm not being dramatic. I'm just talking about what's in the newspapers.

Emy diGrappa (14:56):

Well, I guess, you know... not, I guess, but I think that when, even though I, I've watched a lot of documentaries and, and reports on the melting of glaciers, not just Alaska, but even here in Wyoming.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (15:11):


Emy diGrappa (15:12):

And, and in terms of affecting us personally, what do you think the American people need to do to mitigate or understand, or, you know, change behavior?

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (15:28):

I definitely believe that they need to understand the problem. That's, kind of what we've been about in, in, in our small group of, of flag and general officers that, uh, for some time now have been going to places like Indianapolis and, and, uh, Phoenix, and they're a bunch of those visits that we've done to places to just sit down and talk in the university environment. Actually, I was in Casper, Wyoming, and, uh, and, and we had a great session there. Uh, so, that's, that's number one priority. The American people need to be informed. They need to understand that this is not, uh, fake news. This is, this is real. And what do you do when you're faced with these kinds of challenges? You don't put your head in the sand and do nothing. You start planning now, Wyoming, I think, has all kinds of reasons to be both optimistic and wary. I mean, obviously you're burning a lot of coal in Wyoming, and I know that through the forum there at, at, uh, Jackson Hole and, and other, um, forums that Guam is working are hard to, uh, deal with it.

                 And you can't ignore water as a, as just a source of all kinds of, of, of, uh, needs for planning and mitigation, whether there's way too much of it, or, or there's not enough of it. Uh, that, uh, these are local issues as well as state issues, as well as global issues. So, I, um, I think that's number two, is to, is to have the very things that are going on like that one in Jackson Hole, the one that we're going to participate in, uh, at the universities and, and community colleges in the schools. I just, I, I don't think it's, it's, uh, being over-reactive to inform people, get their interest up so that they can at least, uh, be a part of telling, um, the people that make the decisions, what, what they want to see done.

                 And, and it's, it's complicated. It, it's not easy. Uh, we have, you know, Texas big energy state as well. And I've been, um, kind of, surprised actually to be invited over to Houston, which has always been the center of Texas energy corporations and management, and that sort of thing, to talk to groups of citizens. And they're not, they're not political, they're not, uh, they're, they're both sides of the political spectrum, or let's say all sides. And they want to, they're telling me they want to persuade their elected officials to pay attention to them. That's these groups of citizens to listen to them because they want actions taken.

                 I think that's very, very positive and very hopeful. Uh, we, we can't just keep kicking the can down the street. And frankly, we have to be honest and acknowledging that all the nations of the world are signed up to do something except United States. That's not a good situation. And I'm not saying that in a political way. I'm just saying that in a totally non-partisan way, because the, the problem is big enough. It's so big that without U.S. leadership in the world, that is, uh, a bad thing, a real bad thing.

Emy diGrappa (19:25):

Well, (laughs) that was a lot to, um, take in because basically the rest of the world has signed up to understand this, and we are kicking the can down the road, as you said. And it's kind of like, you know-

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (19:38):

I don't think Wyoming, I don't think Wyoming's kicking the can down the road. I don't think, uh, I don't... A lot of places are not kicking the can down the road. I'm saying, but, uh, at the national level, the U.S. is a powerful player on the global scene. And right now they're sitting on the bench.

Emy diGrappa (19:59):

And really, like you said, uh, when it's a community citizen group, that's the grassroots. And that's where I think real change can happen. And I, I understand at the national level, but it still has to happen, you know, there still has to be a loud voice from the people.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (20:18):

I agree. That's really the way things get done at the national level. The people speak. (laughs).

Emy diGrappa (20:24):

Right, right. And they have to speak loudly and consistently for, sometimes a long time.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (20:31):

Now that's true. That's true. But again, I think there are reasons to believe that we can, as a country and really it's important that the whole world play because we're all on this blue, green all together. And, and that involves a combination of technological progress breakthroughs I was gonna say, but there are a lot of, there are a lot of subtle signs. Although we keep moving the, the minute hand closer to the deadline and we shouldn't keep doing that without really moving out right now, there is time, with action, to, to make this old world a good place for my grandchildren and, and great-grandchildren.

Emy diGrappa (21:20):

Right. So, I'm glad to hear there's, there's still hope in your message General. (laughs). It's been great talking to you.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (21:26):


Emy diGrappa (21:26):

Thank you so much for your time.

Lt. General Dirk Jameson (21:28):

Thanks so much.

Emy diGrappa (21:38):

Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to,, subscribe and never miss a show.