Friday, May 7, 2010

Arguing the link between Climate Change and Security

I've noticed some concerns by critics about how climate change is linked to security.  A common thread I've heard is that military and security planners are just looking for another threat to justify their existence (and their budgets).  Stephen Walt went along this line last summer. I saw it in the comment section of Keith Kloor's blog, where there was some skepticism about the link between security and climate change.  I think that skepticism is misplaced, even if someone is skeptical about the science. 

Military and security planners don’t plan for what they know is going to happen – that would be pretty easy. We have to have the foresight to look for and be able to adapt to any number of contingencies. Part of that planning has to include uncertainty. It even has to include planning for events that are very low probability, if the impact is high enough. Outside of the climate sphere, this is why we spend money on missile defense.  We don't know that Iran or North Korea is going to get a ballistic missile capable of reaching the US, but the potential damages of it are so high, that we're working hard on technology to intercept that threat. 

Another example: the intelligence community was rightfully pilloried for not being prepared for a terrorist threat eminating from Afghanistan. Should Osama bin Laden have been the sole focus of US intelligence in the 1990s -no. But, planners should have had the foresight to look at the possibility and put in place some prudent preventative actions.

So, even if climate skeptics don't believe the computer models or the climate projections, they would have to be 100% certain that they're right in order to justify not planning for the insecurities caused by extreme climate changes.  So, the burden of proof should be on climate skeptics to prove that there is no chance that the climate will change, not on the climate scientists.  Using Dick Cheney's measurement, if there's even a 1% chance that the climate scientist are right, then you have to act, if only prudently.  

When a skeptic says that projections are worth nil — that’s not really true. They’re worth it as a potential contingency that should be looked at. In fact, we should probably prepare for much worse than those projections, on the assumption that if you prepare for the worst, you will be prepared for anything. 

In short, we don’t have the luxury of operating with 100% certainty. Strategic planning is looking at and preparing for all of your “known unknowns” — the things we know we don’t know – and trying to minimize the dreaded “unknown unknowns”.

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