Environmental Security 2

Enter the Pentagon

In Part I of this series we explored the concept of environmental security in terms of its meaning, history and the implications for the environment and for national and global security. We learned that it was not a particularly new concept but could be traced back as early as the 1960’s and, indeed, was the focus of increasing discussion in the 70’s.

Oddly enough, in that era, it was some who we would label as conservatives who were among the first to realize and appreciate the relationship. Notable among them was the previously-mentioned Sir Crispin Tickell who was Science Adviser to both Margaret Thatcher and John Major and who, unlike their conservative counterparts in the United States, saw the need to address climate change as a serious issue. It would likely be appropriate to credit Sir Crispin with being largely responsible for their take on the topic.

One particular area which he brought to attention in his book was the stress on societies that could be attributed to mass migrations of those who might become environmental refugees due to changing climate. This has since been revisited numerous times in a variety of studies.

One such study was written for the Pentagon and later released to appear in Fortune magazine. [2] The project was undertaken at the direction of Andrew Marshall, long known for thinking outside the box, so this topic was not an outlier from that perspective. Its concentration on abrupt climate change, however, provided what might be considered an extreme view or worst case scenario that included the potential to disrupt the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation of currents that keep much of Europe more temperate than locations at that same latitude. In other words, any interruption of that circulation might carry the effect of literally freezing out our allies. One discussion of that paper said:

“… widespread accelerations of the catastrophic effects already associated with”‘ normal’ climate change… could lead to military confrontations between states over access to scarce food, water and energy supplies, or what the authors describe as a ‘world of warring states period.’” [2]

The authors specifically made this suggestion that “because of the potentially dire consequences, the risk of abrupt climate change, although uncertain and quite possibly small, should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern.” After laying out scientific evidence and providing potential regional implications they further detailed what they saw as security implications and made recommendations that included:

1) Improve predictive climate models

2) Assemble predictive models of climate change impacts

3) Create vulnerability metric for vulnerable nations

4) Identify no-regrets strategies

5) Rehearse adaptive responses to massive migration, diseases/epidemics, food/water shortages

6) Explore local implications of agriculturally-related problems.

7) Explore more radical geoengineering options to mitigate climate change.

Author and National Defense University Professor Gregory Foster, a West Point graduate, said:

“The importance of this episode, as well its is relevance for the future, lies in both the message and the method of the Schwartz-Randall report itself. The implicit message is that even worse than climate change is the not unrealistic possibility of abrupt climate change. For those who had not heard of it, the article made clear that abrupt climate change is not just global warming speeded up, but a wholly different kind of event triggered by the baseline climate change we already know.” [3]

In the next installment we will look at additional, more recent documents directly related to climate change and national security with input from both retired and active duty high-ranking members of the armed forces.

Environmental Security Part I: The Basics

Environmental Security Part II: Enter the Pentagon

Environmental Security Part III: Old Soldiers Never Die, But They Can Change

Environmental Security Part IV: The Pentagon is My Friend?

Environmental Security Part V: Climate of Conflict 1

[1] Schwartz, Peter and Randall, Doug. An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security. October 2003.

[2] Foster, Gregory. National Defense University. A New Security Paradigm. Worldwatch. January/February 2005.

[3] Op cit Foster.