Monday, February 18, 2008

Climate Change and National Security

Part of the struggle in dealing with climate change its intangible nature. It seems far away and it is not obvious what we can do about it. John Podesta and Peter Ogden provide useful insight into one small piece of the puzzle: how will the U.S. military respond to climate change? While this might seem like a low priority, climate change will so radically change every aspect of our lives that asking such questions now is a really good exercise.

I'm not sure how useful the actual policy points are. For instance, the authors suggest that traditional military operations will take place more often in violent storms. I doubt it. While climate change will lead to more great storms, in reality, they will still be relatively few at any one place on the earth. A greater problem will be drought, which affects a wide swath of area for a long time. I'm sure we are learning something out of Iraq on that. Maybe this will be the only useful thing to come out of the war.

An important larger question is what role will the military play in dealing with climate change related natural disasters. Will the U.S. military take on the role of evacuating people around the world in the face of rising waters, big hurricanes, etc. I tend to be skeptical. I believe the U.S. will be so overwhelmed in dealing with its own disasters that I don't really see us going into Bangladesh to help that nation for example, even though they will need help very badly.

Of course, by thinking about the relationship between the military and climate change, Podesta and Ogden also help focus the conversation on the role of the U.S. government more broadly in this disaster. By considering what will happen to U.S. naval bases that are inundated with rising sea waters, we will also have to think about our cities, industrial capability, and natural environment.

And I am not confident in the least that we will even begin to approach any real useful solutions until it is too late. But at least this is a start.