Climate Change Is a Threat to National Security

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July 8 2014 11:00 AM

Climate Change Is a Threat to National Security

earthonfire_250

Fire image courtesy peasap's Flickr photostream; Earth image from NASA; composite by Phil Plait.

Global warming is real, and we’re starting to feel the physical effects now. It’s difficult to pin any one event on a warming world; it’s like playing craps with a pair of loaded die. That 12 you rolled may have been random, or it may have been because the dice are very slightly weighted. You have to throw a lot of rolls before the effects are seen with any certainty.

But these physical effects on our planet are just the start. Droughts, fires, more extreme weather, sea level rise, ocean acidification … these are just the primary, direct consequences as our planet gets hotter.

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But these will have further effects. Starvation, mass migration, rise of disease, species extinction, and collapse of infrastructure follow these primary effects. These will profoundly affect people, and that means politics will play its role, from the local, tribal level all the way up to nations.

David Titley was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, and an expert in climate change and national security. He served on the CNA Corp.'s Military Advisory Board, which recently issued a strongly worded report calling global warming a threat to national security.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

Titley wrote an op-ed published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reiterating the need to take this threat seriously. It’s actually pretty simple to understand: A changing world environment means a changing political environment. If some regions stand to lose in the crap shoot of climate change, then they will see the need to take action. Furthermore, as the geophysical landscape literally changes, nations will move to capitalize on it (such as melting Arctic ice opening up shipping lanes, and, ironically, more places to drill for oil). These are things our government must pay attention to, and must make plans for.

Of course, as I’ve written about before, Republicans in Congress added an amendment to a Department of Defense funding bill specifically forbidding money be spent on looking into global warming. Ironically, for all their nationalistic claims, their actions put our nation in very real jeopardy.

Once you deny reality, the fantasy you spin can be very dangerous.

And, of course, they are cheered on by the Noise Machine. The latest is by perennial reality-stomper David Rose, who would probably deny the Earth was warming up when the Sun turns into a red giant and fills half the sky. In the Daily Mail (I know, wrapping a fish in the Mail is an insult to the fish, but it’s sadly widely read) he penned his usual nonsense, this time a ridiculous piece about there being more Antarctic sea ice than usual, so how can global warming possibly be real?

Happily John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli handily destroy this bit of misinformation. The bottom line: Antarctic sea ice comes and goes every year, and a relatively small increase this year does very little to balance the vast loss of Arctic sea ice, or the massive melting we’re seeing in Greenland and Antarctic land ice. Abraham and Nuccitelli correctly point out that screeds like Rose’s are distractions, adding noise to the discussion without adding any real content.

In situations like this, I picture deniers with their backs to a raging forest fire, looking at one tree off to the side that’s not yet aflame, claiming that everything’s OK.

Everything is most certainly not OK. We’re changing the planet, and that’s changing the shape of geopolitics. We need to face that fact, and the sooner the better.