Friday, August 26, 2011

Can't we deal with anything anymore without designating it a "national security threat"? Climate change edition

Francesco Femia et al write about The inadequate US response to a major security threat: Climate change Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists n/d, accessed 08/24/2011. The publications bullet-point summary:

  • The United States has expended enormous resources in response to the security threats posed by WMDs, terrorism, and the economic crisis.
  • The Defense Department and CIA consider climate change a significant national security threat.
  • Other American policymakers have not matched the security establishment's assessment with the appropriate resources or political will, leaving the United States with a relatively feeble response to an enormous security threat.
Now, global climate change is a threat to our national well-being and does involve national security concerns of the this-could-cause-a-war kind. But it's also a sign of how much of a national security state the US has developed that even a broad problem like this one winds up being first addressed in its long-range national security dimension.

And it also raises the problem that national security establishment gets another field in which to expand its authority with the problem framed in national-security terms:

The US military and much of the broader national security community have actually recognized the seriousness of the threat posed by global climate change. The US Defense Department, for example, included the climate threat as a key pillar of its most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, conducted wargames to plan for climate impacts, and, in its most recent Unified Command Plan, designated Northern Command to lead activities in the Arctic region. Even the CIA has established a Center for the Study of Climate Change.
Great. The Arctic may not have any "weapons of mass destruction" or oil tyrants to overthrow. But maybe we can bomb the glaciers into not melting so fast!

But the Femia et al article is good at showing how the US national investment of resources to counter the risks of nuclear attack and terrorism compare to the response to date to the more precisely predictable consequences of global climate change. They describe the latter this way:

There is a comparatively high degree of certainty about the likelihood, global scale, and severity of climate change impacts (see "Degrees of Risk" by the sustainable development nonprofit E3G). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization and including some of the world's top scientists, places the likelihood that the global climate is warming because of human activities -- chiefly the burning of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -- at 90 percent or greater, an incredibly rare degree of certainty on any subject in the scientific world. There is also great certainty about the severe impacts those changes will have, should they go unaddressed.

The IPCC is very certain, for example, that sea-levels will rise -- by a meter or more -- just as experts expect the current 50 percent of the Earth's population living in coastal areas to climb to 75 percent by 2025. Various impacts will infringe on state boundaries (and in some cases, state existence) as land is lost to the sea. Global agriculture production will be decreased by floods and droughts, severely diminishing the world's ability to feed a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Authoritative scientific reports project that climate change will also affect the availability of resources, including fresh water, compelling people to migrate within and across national boundaries to survive. The past has shown that such dynamics can often result in conflict and violence. [my emphasis]
How aggressive has the Obama Administration, which the Republicans regard as a socialist Kenyan Marxist Islamunist one, been in addressing global climate change? "In fiscal 2010, the US spent just $1.7 billion on international climate change financing, a figure that pales in comparison to the financial responses to the aforementioned threats."

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