Monday, August 31, 2009

The Danger of Overstating the Climate Security Argument

There is a well-informed opinion piece in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists by Geoff Dabelko of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center.

He makes a good argument against hyperventilating about climate security. However, I think we need to be careful that we look at who the target audience of this opinion piece is. The danger here is not that the planners (both in and out of government) in the security community are going to overstate the links between climate change and security – by and large they don’t want to court controversy. The US security community attempts to plan for every contingency. We should be encouraging them to explore all contingencies, including abrupt, dangerous climate change, even if such low-likelihood events can be politically controversial.

However, we must be careful about using the security argument for political purposes. The danger of overstating the security threats of climate change comes from the politicians and the interest groups who are pushing an agenda. In many ways, they’re just responding to market incentives: the CNA’s 2007 report was well received by the US political community, and brought a lot of publicity and political action, so other groups are trying to emulate that. The most dangerous, however, are the reports with big headline numbers, clear political overtones, but simplistic reasoning (the one I can think of recently is Kofi Annan’s estimate of 300,000 current deaths per year By putting these out in the media, it feeds skepticism among journalists about real, authoritative reports.

When I was working for Senator Hagel, he genuinely was pushing for the NIE on climate change’s security effects in 2007 because he wanted the Pentagon and the intelligence community to seriously look at the threats; however, most other Senators are only looking for another talking point. They wanted to be able to say: “the CIA believes that climate change will harm US security, so that means you must vote for my bill.” I’m not sure how to balance these competing priorities: we want to encourage action in Copenhagen and the Senate, and arguments about national security can be persuasive, but we have to guard against junk science from groups that we might normally think of as allies in this fight.

No comments:

Post a Comment