A couple of years ago at a conference in New York, I tried out a theory I had been developing: What if climate change presents a security threat in terms of a confluence of oil dependence, funding to terrorists, displacement of people, and changing water supplies, arable land, and strategic choke points. Certainly, I thought, the combination of poverty, terrorist groups, and the presence of people with new, powerful grievances are an explosive mix. My co-panelists looked at me in bewilderment.
Now it seems the idea is coming into its own, if it's not too late. At a UN meeting I attended yesterday, I asked a UN official whether member states and her colleagues were focusing on the effects of climate change. Her only answer was that everyone was doing their best to make the Copenhagen meeting a success. There didn't seem to be any thought given on preparing for the inevitable impact of climate change. We all have a responsibility to slow climate change but we also have a responsibility to prepare for its impact.
But there are many who understand the gravity of the problem. This afternoon, the Truman National Security Project and Operation Free hosted a conference call with Senator John Kerry on the security implications of climate change. I recommend everyone take a look at Operation Free's excellent website, which contains a ton of information on the possible threats from climate change. The message of the call was that in the past the United States had led by rank on these issues; now, it must lead by example. One officer said that we cannot wait for 100 percent certainty on what climate change means before we act on the threat. The time for action is now.
Senator Kerry's message was that American soldiers in Afghanistan have already reported on the visible threats related to climate change, including desertification and drought in areas that are vulnerable to extremist groups. General Zinni has said that climate change will involve the military and the loss of human life. Some of the points Senator Kerry mentioned were:
- The growing desert in Sudan against the backdrop of the need for firewood, worsening the desert
- The acute need for water in the Middle East where only 2 percent of the world's water is located
- The melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas that provide water to billions of people; the glaciers may be gone in 20 years.
- The rising oceans and their devestation to island nations
- The destruction of fishing grounds
- The predicted displacement of some 100 million people form climate change
- The anticipated increased migration of Mexicans to the United States
- The increased spread of diseases
- The disappearance of forests in Colorado
- The continued money from oil funding petro-states, autocrats, and extremists
- The dependence on (and shifting) strategic choke points like the Malacca Strait
If these threats were not enough, the arguments to take leadership include: the positive economic impact of investing in clean energy; the health benefits of reducing pollution; and the ethical responsibility to future generations.
Photo of Sudanese desert by tomallen.