In his scrupulously evenhanded book What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate, Greg Craven makes reference to four different assessments of climate change conducted by organizations with a link to the American military. All conclude that climate change is a serious problem, and that actions must be taken to mitigate it.
The first is the 2008 National Intelligence Assessment, drafted by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies including the CIA, FBI, and NSA. While the report itself is classified, the chairman said that climate change could disrupt US access to raw materials, create millions of refugees, and cause water shortages and damage from melting permafrost.
Another is a 2003 Pentagon study: An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security: Imagining the Unthinkable. It considers a worst-case but plausible scenario, and concludes that abrupt climate change could destabilize the geopolitical environment:
In short, while the US itself will be relatively better off and with more adaptive capacity, it will find itself in a world where Europe will be struggling internally, large number so [sic] refugees washing up on its shores and Asia in serious crisis over food and water. Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.
It also argues that “with inadequate preparation, the result [of abrupt climate change] could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.”
The third report is from the Center for Naval Analyses. Their “blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines” produced the report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. It calls climate change “potentially devastating” and advises that the risks to national security will “almost certainly” get worse if mitigation action is delayed. It also stresses how we don’t require 100% certainty about the precise seriousness of a threat before it starts making sense to address it.
The last report was drafted by two national security think tanks: the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security. Their 2007 report is titled: The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change. Their team included the head of the National Academy of Sciences, one Nobel laureate economist, a former CIA director, a former presidential chief of staff, climatologists, and others. They concluded that current projections from climate models are “too conservative” and that “at higher ranges of the [warming] spectrum, chaos awaits.” The authors conclude that an effective response would have to occur in less than a decade “in order to have any chance” of preventing irreversible disaster.”
The only fair conclusion that it seems possible to reach about these reports is that they have been ignored. If American policy-makers and members of the general public accepted these conclusions – and interpreted them with the seriousness accorded to matters of national security – we would not be seeing so much doddering around before meaningful action is taken. While the military does have an incentive to scare people, since doing so likely increases their funding, Craven is probably right to claim that the overall bias of these organizations is towards economic strength rather than environmental protection. That, and the calibre of the individuals associated with these reports, seems to provide good reason for taking them seriously.
Note that the issue of climate change and security has been discussed here previously.