The Pentagon: Climate Change and National Security

dept. of defense emblemThe seriousness of climate change has the Pentagon highly concerned. In 2003, the legendary defense advisor, Andrew Marshall, head of the Pentagon’s secretive think-tank, Office of Net Assessment, commissioned a study examining the national security impact of global warming. The report, titled, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security, informed the Department of Defense that climate change could increase geopolitical conflicts, even wars, over natural resources such as water, food, oil, and natural gas. The report conservatively states that its findings “although not the most likely, is plausible,” and that,
“Ocean, land, and atmosphere scientists at some of the world’s most prestigious organizations have uncovered new evidence over the past decade suggesting that the plausibility of severe and rapid climate change is higher than most of the scientific community and perhaps all of the political community is prepared for.”

parched ground with animal skullThe study focuses on the plausibility of abrupt  change in climate caused by the disruption of what’s known as the Great Ocean Conveyor, and one that many scientists worry about. Put another way, once the conveyor is impeded, all bets are off, and the climate will no longer change gradually. Rather, it will precipitate into a severe scenario of global adversity. And that there are indications we are approaching that threshold. The Great Ocean Conveyor moves water currents through the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, driven by the denser colder water sinking, then traveling south along the ocean floor toward the equator, while warmer surface water from the tropics travel north to replace the cold water that sank.

The report states there is substantial evidence that significant global warming will occur in the 21st century, causing melting sea ice to expose more of the ocean’s surface thereby producing more evaporation into the atmosphere leading to increased rain and snow. Both the precipitation and the melted sea ice are fresh water. Fresh water is less dense than saltwater and therefore more buoyant, preventing it from sinking, and could bring the circulation of the oceanic conveyor to a halt. The Pentagon report states, “The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute reports that seas surrounding the North Atlantic have become less salty in the past 40 years, which in turn freshens the deep ocean in the North Atlantic. This trend could pave the way for ocean conveyor collapse or slowing and [result in] abrupt climate change.”

art: showing path of ocean conveyor beltOceans absorb and store the sun’s immense heat. The Great Ocean Conveyor influences climates around the world by bringing with it vast amounts of this heat equivalent to a million nuclear power plants, and it’s disruption could trigger colder weather in Europe, Asia, and North America, likely to drop by 90 F. And Australia, South America, and Southern Africa would have an average increase of 40 F. The great conveyor moves about 30 million cubic meters of water every second, and disrupting it would result in colder winters, crop damage, drought, and a shortening of the growing season resulting in food and water shortages around the world. The report also reveals,
The United States turns inward, committing its resources to feeding its own population, shoring-up its borders, and managing the increasing global tensions.”

Lake Mead's declining water levelThere will be such a desperate hardship for some countries due to depletion of vital resources, that its peoples will seek countries like the United States and Australia that have the resources to adapt, and, those countries are likely to build defensive fortresses around their borders. The following is just one example of potential conflict the Pentagon report points out,
“With over 200 river basins touching multiple nations, we can expect conflict over access to water for drinking, irrigation, and transportation. The Danube touches twelve nations, the Nile runs through nine, and the Amazon runs through seven.” 

Also it states, that despite the view of optimists who feel we have the time to outpace climate change with technology,
“This view of climate change may be a dangerous act of self-deception, as increasingly we are facing weather related disasters—more hurricanes, monsoons, floods, and dry-spells—in regions around the world.”

Since carbon dioxide that’s already present in the atmosphere lingers there between 50 to 200 years, our prospects to head off increased warming before wide-spread extensive damage occurs is grim. It seems implausible that we can ameliorate this conundrum merely relying on reducing emissions alone, because really, we don’t want to stop and pay the price—not to the extent it needs to be done. In 2011 we (the world) pumped a record breaking 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and scientists believe it will be higher for 2012.

 The New York Times reports, “[T]he decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.” And, “Delegates from nearly 200 nations are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for the latest round of talks under the treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their agenda is modest this year, with no new emissions targets and little progress expected on a protocol that is supposed to be concluded in 2015 and take effect in 2020.”
What’s their hurry?
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