Should the GOP Champion Climate Change as a National Security Issue?

Source:  Global

The truth about extreme weather


Yes, argues Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in The Atlantic (Sep. 17, 2012). Gartenstein-Ross is the author of Bin Laden’s Legacy: Why We’re Still Losing the War on Terror. I haven’t read the book, but judging from the favorable reviews, Gartenstein-Ross has the ear of defense hawks of both parties. Does he offer sound advice on global warming?

In his Atlantic article, Gartenstein-Ross chides Republicans for taking a “decidely unrealistic tack” on climate change. “The available evidence overwhelmingly suggests that climate change is real; that extreme weather events are increasing; and that this dynamic will have an impact on American national security, if it hasn’t already,” he avers. He goes on to blame this summer’s drought on global warming, citing NASA scientist James Hansen’s claim that the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave, and the 2011 Texas-Oklahoma drought have “virtually no explanation other than climate change.” (For an alternative assessment, see these posts.)

Since 2010, notes Gartenstein-Ross, the Department of Defense has classified climate change as a conflict accelerant — a factor exacerbating tensions within and between nations. Well, sure, what else is Team Obama at DOD going to say in an era of tight budgets when no rival superpower endangers our survival? The concept of an ever-deepening, civilization-imperilling climate crisis is an ideal mission-creep accelerant.

Gartenstein-Ross concludes by urging Republicans to face “reality” and take action on climate change. However, he offers no advice as to what policies they should adopt. Does he favor cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory cascade, ’all of the above’? Gartenstein-Ross doesn’t say. He ducks the issue of what economic sacrifices he thinks Republicans should demand of the American people.

Below is a lightly edited version of a comment I posted yesterday at The Atlantic on Gartenstein-Ross’s article:

Dear Mr. Gartenstein-Ross,

Some Republicans have taken an “unrealistic tack” on climate change — for example, denying that global warming is real or doubting whether carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This, however, is an unfortunate consequence of the climate alarm movement’s rhetorical trickery. Al Gore and his allies pretend that once you accept the reality of global warming, then everything else they claim (e.g. sea levels could rise by 20 feet this century) or advocate (cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, Soviet-style production quota for wind turbines) follows inexorably, as night the day. Consequently, some GOP politicians and activists now believe they must deny or question a tautology (“greenhouse gases have a greenhouse effect”) in order to oppose Gore’s narrative of doom and agenda of energy rationing.

As a thoughtful analyst, you should see through this rhetorical trap. Yes, other things being equal, CO2 emissions warm the planet. That, however, does not begin to settle the core scientific issue of climate sensitivity (the amount of warming projected to occur from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations). It tells us nothing about impacts, such as how much Greenland and Antarctica will contribute to sea level rise by 2100 (BTW, a realistic projection is inches rather than feet or meters). It does not tell us whether the costs of “inaction” are greater or less than the costs of “action.”

James Hansen’s attribution of the ongoing drought to global warming, which you cite, is a testable hypothesis. Patrick Michaels examines how the U.S. Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) matches up over time both with the U.S. temperature record and that portion of the record attributable to global temperature trends. Turns out, there is zero correlation between global temperature trends and the PDSI, but a significant correlation between plain old natural climate variability and the PDSI.

One massive fact conveniently swept under the rug by the climate alarm movement is that since the 1920s — a fairly long period of overall warming — global deaths and death rates attributable to extreme weather have declined by 93% and 98%, respectively. The 93% decline in aggregate deaths is remarkable, given that global population has increased about four-fold since 1920. The most deadly form of extreme weather is drought, and since 1920, worldwide deaths and death rates attributable to drought have fallen by an astonishing 99.98% and 99.99%, respectively.

As Indur Goklany, author of the study just cited explains, the increasing safety of humanity with respect to extreme weather came about not in spite of mankind’s utilization of carbon-based fuels but in large measure because of it. Fertilizers, plastics for packaging, mechanized agriculture, trade between food surplus and food deficit regions, emergency response systems, and humanitarian assistance — advances that have dramatically increased global food security — all presuppose fossil fuels and the wealth of economies powered by fossil fuels.

A just-published study by Jeff Keuter of the George C. Marshall Institute finds that “environmental factors rarely incite conflict between states or within states.” For example, Israel and her Arab neighbors have gone to war several times — but never over access to water. Keuter finds that “efforts to link climate change to the deterioration of U.S. national security rely on improbable scenarios, imprecise and speculative methods, and scant empirical support.”

You mention the hunger crisis of 2008. Ironically, one of the contributing factors was a global warming policy – the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS), which artificially raises the demand for and price of corn. As you note, soaring corn prices also pull up the price of wheat.

Which brings me to a final point. It is one-sided and, well, risky to assess the security risks of climate change without also assessing the security risks of climate change policies. For example, economic strength is the foundation of military power. A great power cannot have a second-rate economy. Affordable energy is vital to economic growth. Carbon mitigation schemes have a vast potential to chill job creation and growth because they are designed to make energy more costly. That is the main reason Congress and the public rejected cap-n-tax.

The worse the economy, the more painful the trade-offs between guns and butter. How to cut the deficit without gutting core military capabilities is a key issue White House and congressional budget negotiators are grappling with right now. The revival of North America as an energy producing province is one of the few economic bright spots today, a source of new tax revenues as well as new jobs. From a national security perspective, now is the worst possible time to ramp up the already considerable regulatory risks facing the coal, oil, and natural gas industries.

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