Think Progress has the details on another clarion call from climate scientists as “Scientists issue first ”˜State of the Planet’ declaration at the world’s largest gathering of experts on global environmental and social issues in advance of the major UN Summit Rio+20 in June.”:
Research now demonstrates that the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk. Without urgent action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources: these threats risk intensifying economic, ecological and social crises, creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale….
The defining challenge of our age is to safeguard Earth’s natural processes to ensure the well-being of civilization while eradicating poverty, reducing conflict over resources, and supporting human and ecosystem health….
As consumption accelerates everywhere and world population rises, it is no longer sufficient to work towards a distant ideal of sustainable development. Global sustainability must become a foundation of society. It can and must be part of the bedrock of nation states and the fabric of societies.
Let’s not put too fine a point on it: civilization itself is at stake, within the lifetimes of many of the readers of this blog.
Yet all the indications are that we have already failed to protect civilization from serious problems. Politicians more concerned about their own “top ask” of gravy and their campaign contributions than the long term security of the people they represent are largely to blame for a lack of serious action which means we are still adding to the world’s greenhouse gas burden at an ever-growing rate so late in the game. Catastrophic climate change is a given at this stage. We can now only ask how we might mitigate that change somewhat (stop global warming from being even worse than the 6Â° C (about 10.8Â° F) we can already expect by the end of this century and how we can prepare to protect the nation, the world and civilization itself from the knock-on effects of that change.
The consequences of climate change will be found, and are being found now around the world. New climate conditions will drive human beings to move in ever larger numbers, seeking food, water, shelter and work. No region will be immune. Climate refugees will increasingly cross our own borders. The stress of changes in the environment will further weaken marginal states. Failing states will incubate extremism. In South Asia, the melting of Himalayan glaciers jeopardizes fresh water supplies for more than one billion human beings. In North America, agriculture could be disrupted by increases in temperatures and shifting weather patterns that limit rainfall. Globally, major urban centers could be threatened by rising sea levels. Malaria and other tropical diseases are moving into new areas, and outbreaks are increasing in frequency as the planet warms and weather patterns change. All of this is just the foretaste of a bitter cup from which we can expect to drink should we fail to address, urgently, the threats posed by climate change to our national security.
Within the national security arena, there are some good people working to bring the consequences of climate change to the forefront of debate. That’s where it should be. After all, none of the short-term obsessions of the natsec community – be it Iran, Syria, AlQaeda or the pivot to China – are anywhere near a threat to civilization on a worldwide scale in the way that climate change is. Unfortunately,
social science research has shown that the human mind is hard-wired to prioritize immediate dangers and risks over long-term threats. We also tend to prefer immediate benefits, rather than the prospect of future rewards. Thus, many lawmakers and the constituents who elected them are hesitant to support taking action on climate change now since it could result in economic costs in the short term, despite the evidence that shows that addressing climate change now would reduce future risks.
The 2010 Defense Department Quadriennial Review (PDF) gave only four short paragraphs over to the implications for national security of climate change. While the Pentagon is vocal in its need for change in the way it uses its energy resources, mainly in response to rising costs, it’s said precious little about changing postures, training or equipment to meet rising climate change threats. Almost no-one is talking about the need to ramp up the nation’s ability to deal with epidemic and pandemic disease outbreaks, even though such outbreaks are predicted to be one of the biggest direct causes of deaths from climate change, with expected fatalities in the hundreds of millions. No-one I know about is discussing the additional policing challenges of coping with an expected massive influx of migrants over the US Southern border when instead of having local support the federal government must cope with a swathe of the nation from West Texas to the Pacific which has become a dustbowl punctuated by a few huge cities and thousands of ghost towns.
Climate change is the only remaining existential threat to the United States and to global civilization today. Yet we’re still acting as if it’s somewhere well down a long list of threats. That needs to change. Cold War hawks convinced Western nations to orient their entire national postures towards the Soviet threat. War On Terror hawks convinced the U.S. and its allies to spend trillions on invasions, interventions and homeland security, maybe climate hawks can convince the powers-that-be of the need to take their eyes off short-term gains and focus on the massive long-term loss barrelling down the track. We need more climate hawks, and far more urgency in what those climate hawks are saying.