Friday, October 29, 2010

Climate Change and its National Security Implications Part I

Climate Change and its National Security Implications Part I

Last year, I recall reading a column in the Forum that started with the following, and I paraphrase: “It’s snowing outside, so therefore there must be global climate change.” Along with the information disseminated from legitimate scientific sources such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, local weather observations sufficiently prove that climate scientists are really obscuring the truth of climate change: that there is no such phenomena as climate change.

But if that were the case, why is the Department of Defense taking steps to deal with reducing use of fossil fuels and studying affects of climate change?

The Navy established a goal to have a “Green Strike Group” that will run on bio-fuels by 2015. The Army and Marine Corps have run studies as to how to minimize the use of fossil fuels both in the field and on base. The Air Force by 2011 will be certified to use biofuels for flight. Rising costs in transporting fossil fuels and the vulnerability forward deployed forces in Afghanistan face in protecting those resources from insurgent attacks have forced the US military to seek new means to minimize that need for fossil fuels. The Department of Defense has organized senior officers to investigate the impacts of climate change on national security, involving members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other major commanders.

If climate change is just a canard created by climate scientists to secure more funding, then there would be no reason why the military would look to alternative sources of energy and investigate the impacts of climate change.

Climate change does have an impact on our ecosystem that directly affects humans. The following is just a short laundry list of those effects on our species:

1. A lack of access to supplies of fresh water. Sources of fresh water derive from mountain glaciers, rainfall, snowfall and subsequent snowmelt. Changes in temperature can lead to the reduction of snowfall that replenishes glaciers when they melt in the warmer seasons. With higher temperatures, there is more rainfall, leading to flooding during rainy seasons and less glacier run off during the drier seasons.

According to the 2007 CNA report on Climate Change and National Security, over 40% of the world’s population receives around half of its fresh drinking water from glaciers in the world. The bottom line, with rising global temperatures, the more flooding in the spring, similar to the floods that hammered the Midwest in 2009 and more droughts, similar to the droughts that have hammered sub Saharan Africa.

2. Diminished capacity to produce food. The before mentioned lack of glacier water during droughts lead to an inability to grow crops. With each 1.8 degree (F) rise in temperature there will be a 10% drop in grain production according to Lester Brown’s World Grain Stocks Fall to 57 Days of Consumption.

3. Human health will be affected greatly by climate change. The main issues are those of vector borne diseases and the impact on human health based on a lack of clean fresh water sources. The disaster in Katrina is an example of how a devastating climate event can cause the spread of disease or risks to human health (malaria, mold), the impact on humans without sufficient clean water (see the Superdome debacle) and the massive federal and state resources required to deal with the situation that unfolded.

4. The loss of land and major flooding that can lead to population displacement. As above, the Katrina disaster is a case study of the effects of flooding and land loss and the subsequent population displacement. Over two thirds of the human population lives in close proximity to coastlines around the world. Rising sea levels caused by the melting of Arctic and Antarctic glaciers will endanger major cities located near the ocean. The rising seas and its associated storm surges will affect populations clustered around the world’s major rivers as the salt water from the storm surges can contaminate ground water and destroy croplands.

These are the direct effects of climate change on humans. Next month, I will discuss how these effects contribute to threats against not only US National Security, but also on a worldwide scale. Then I will discuss what we can do to limit our contribution to anthropogenic climate change and how to influence our leaders to take stands to address these issues.

But for now, “Act Locally, Think Globally.”

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