Photo of a melting Norwegian iceberg, by Michael Nolan
One sunny summer day in the mid-1990s, in the company of a dozen fellow Ayahuascanauts to be, I was sailing the Prince William Sound in Alaska. Our destination was an otherwise inaccessible forest cabin located along the Sound’s primeval shore. Along the way we passed by a gleaming white glacier that calved suddenly, producing the most awesome sound I’ve ever heard– a cannon shot/thunder clap that ricocheted back and forth across the bay.
While “breakup” is a natural consequence of the aeonic struggle between fire and ice, what I failed to appreciate at the time was the likely connection between what I had just witnessed and the phenomena of global heating— a warning cry from Gaia herself.
The nineties turned out to be the warmest decade on record, setting in motion a whirlwind of scientific studies and conclaves meant to determine the implications. The UN convened a series of investigations involving thousands of climate scientists that became known as the IPCC, meant to supply scientific evidence to global policy makers such as next month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
While most of the debate has pitted the scientific community against economic interests with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, particularly oil and coal conglomerates who’ve spent tens of millions hiring PR firms and think tanks to obfuscate the role of human energy use in climate change, there is another powerful voice that has remained quietly in the background—those charged with projecting the long term military and economic security of individual nation states.
Nearly six years ago, an in-house Pentagon study pertaining to the security implications of global climate change was ordered by senior defense adviser Andrew Marshall, nicknamed “Yoda” because of the respect he commanded from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld himself. It was leaked to The Guardian in early ’04, and was striking for its conclusion that despite the near hysterical obsession with terrorism that was dominating Washington, global climate change was the far greater threat:
…The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.
‘Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,’ concludes the Pentagon analysis. ‘Once again, warfare would define human life.’
(According to Rep. Virginia Fox (Wingnut-VA), health care care reform is the greater threat, but I digress.)
Fast forward to last week. The Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development issued a press release titled:
…A key focus of the climate-security effort is the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau, which was discussed at length in Brussels earlier this month at the officers’ first meeting. This 500,000 km2 of snow and ice supplies the dry season irrigation for more than a billion people. It is predicted to shrink to 100,000 km2 in 20 years, threatening climate chaos and conflict among dependent countries, including three with nuclear weapons.
Quoting from the military climate statement released at the conference, Air Marshal (ret) AK Singh of India, Chairman of the project’s Military Advisory Council, warned that “failure to recognise the conflict and instability implications of climate change, and to invest in a range of preventative and adaptive actions will be very costly in terms of destabilising nations, causing human suffering, retarding development and providing the required military response.” AK Singh also serves as Project Director, Climate Change & Security, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.
Food and water shortages due to climate change threaten to increase conflicts between nations. Inhospitable living conditions from sea level rise and other impacts will contribute to a growing problem of environmental refugees. With the world nearing the tipping points for abrupt climate changes, little time remains before military organizations will be faced with increased challenges.
If ever there was a problem that transcends national boundaries requiring a unified planetary approach to its solution, this is it. I’d rather see the world’s scientists and politicians hash it out than its military leaders.