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President Barack Obama made climate change the focus of his June 2015 commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Gov. Scott Walker says Obama told the graduates that global warming was the top threat facing the military and world. (AP photos) President Barack Obama made climate change the focus of his June 2015 commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Gov. Scott Walker says Obama told the graduates that global warming was the top threat facing the military and world. (AP photos)

President Barack Obama made climate change the focus of his June 2015 commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Gov. Scott Walker says Obama told the graduates that global warming was the top threat facing the military and world. (AP photos)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 25, 2015

Scott Walker says Barack Obama told Coast Guard global warming is top threat to military and world

As he pursues a bid for the White House in 2016, Gov. Scott Walker has made it a point to call for more action against "radical Islamic terrorism."

He did so again while speaking June 20, 2015, in Washington, D.C., at a conference of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group led by conservative political strategist Ralph Reed.

Toward the end of his remarks, Walker turned to national security -- or what he prefers to call "safety." He criticized President Barack Obama and Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president. And then he made a claim about Obama, national security and global warming.

"You know, I think about how mixed up this Obama-Clinton doctrine is when it comes to foreign policy," Walker said. "We've got a president who, earlier this year -- at the graduation ceremony for the Coast Guard Academy -- stood up and actually told the graduates that the number one threat to the military and the world today is global warming.

"Well, I've got a message for you, Mr. President: The number one threat to the military, the number one threat to America, the number one threat to the world, is radical Islamic terrorism and it's about time we do something about it."

Extended applause followed. But Walker made a far-reaching claim.

Did Obama tell graduates from a branch of the military that global warming is the number one threat to the military and the world?

What was said

Walker’s claim pertains to the commencement speech the president gave May 20, 2015, at the academy, which is located in New London, Conn.

The official text shows Obama devoted the bulk of his speech to climate change (he used that term, not global warming), describing it as a serious threat to America’s national security and to global security.

He did not go so far as to call it the top threat to the military or the world.

Here’s a key portion of what Obama said:

And this brings me to the challenge I want to focus on today -- one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire careers -- and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change. As a nation, we face many challenges, including the grave threat of terrorism. And as Americans, we will always do everything in our power to protect our country. Yet even as we meet threats like terrorism, we cannot, and we must not, ignore a peril that can affect generations ….

Here at the Academy, climate change -- understanding the science and the consequences -- is part of the curriculum, and rightly so, because it will affect everything that you do in your careers ….As America’s Maritime Guardian, you’ve pledged to remain always ready -- Semper Paratus -- ready for all threats.  And climate change is one of those most severe threats.

And this is not just a problem for countries on the coasts, or for certain regions of the world. Climate change will impact every country on the planet. No nation is immune.  So I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act -- and we need to act now.

So, Walker suggests Obama puts climate change ahead of terrorism as a threat, but in his speech, the president notes that the U.S. needs to confront both.

We also checked five news accounts of the speech -- from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, TIME and Fox News. They all emphasized that Obama described climate change as a threat or serious threat to national security.

Other speeches

Prior to the Coast Guard speech, Obama -- in a general context -- suggested climate change is the world’s number one threat.

For instance, in his State of the Union speech in January 2015, Obama said: "No challenge  poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change." And in April 2015, a few days before Earth Day, he said: "Today, there's no greater threat to our planet than climate change."

So, after having identified climate change as perhaps the world’s greatest threat overall, Obama did devote a speech, given to members of the military, to the threat climate change poses to national and global security. But he didn’t go as far as Walker claims.

Our rating

Walker said Obama told the Coast Guard Academy "that the number one threat to the military and the world today is global warming."

Obama on various occasions, and in a general context, has said there is no greater threat to the world than climate change. But in the speech Walker cited, the president told Coast Guard graduates that climate change was a serious threat, not the number one threat to the military or the world.

For a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we give Walker a Mostly False.

Our Sources

C-SPAN, video of Gov. Scott Walker speech (quote at 24:45), June 20, 2015

The White House, text of President Barack Obama’s remarks, May 20, 2015

Email exchange, White House spokeswoman Kaelan Richards, June 22, 2015

Email exchange, Scott Walker testing the waters committee spokeswoman AshLee Strong, June 23, 2015

Associated Press, "Obama calls climate change an ‘indisputable’ reality that threatens American national security," May 20, 2015

TIME, "Obama calls climate change a national security threat," May 20, 2015

Wall Street Journal, "Obama says climate change endangers national security," May 20, 2015

Washington Post, "At Coast Guard graduation, Obama warns of climate change threat to national security," May 20, 2015

Fox News, "Obama warns Coast Guard cadets global warming a national security ‘threat,’" May 20, 2015

CNN, "Obama: No greater to future than climate change," Jan. 21, 2015

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Scott Walker says Barack Obama told Coast Guard global warming is top threat to military and world

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