February 10, 2004

The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare: The climate could change radically, and fast. That would be the mother of all national security issues.

Global warming was identified as an emerging national
security issue (along with AIDS in Africa) by the
Clinton-Gore administration. Indeed, Al Gore, almost
single-handedly saved the Kyoto Accords (although it
was a thankless job, the Left denigrated the
agreement, and the Right ridiculed it)...Of course,
one of the first acts of the Bush Cabal, after it
seized power in 2000, was to back the US out of the
international agreement. Ever since the _resident has
been playing a cruel game, clutching on to
psuedo-science, pretending that the basis for the
grave concern is still inconclusive. Like Nero, who
played the fiddle while Rome burned, the _resident is
playing PNACkle while the world melts. But now you can
see something ever more abominable, while politically
they pretend that the issue is unresolved, militarily
they are preparing for the worst. No difference, Mr.
Nada? No difference between a vote for Bush and a vote
for Gore?

Fortune: In sum, the risk of abrupt climate change
remains uncertain, and it is quite possibly small. But
given its dire consequences, it should be elevated
beyond a scientific debate. Action now matters,
because we may be able to reduce its likelihood of
happening, and we can certainly be better prepared if
it does. It is time to recognize it as a national
security concern.

Save the Environment, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)

The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare: The climate could change radically, and fast. That would be the mother of all national security issues.
Monday, January 26, 2004
By David Stipp

Global warming may be bad news for future generations,
but let's face it, most of us spend as little time
worrying about it as we did about al Qaeda before
9/11. Like the terrorists, though, the seemingly
remote climate risk may hit home sooner and harder
than we ever imagined. In fact, the prospect has
become so real that the Pentagon's strategic planners
are grappling with it.

The threat that has riveted their attention is this:
Global warming, rather than causing gradual,
centuries-spanning change, may be pushing the climate
to a tipping point. Growing evidence suggests the
ocean-atmosphere system that controls the world's
climate can lurch from one state to another in less
than a decade—like a canoe that's gradually tilted
until suddenly it flips over. Scientists don't know
how close the system is to a critical threshold. But
abrupt climate change may well occur in the
not-too-distant future. If it does, the need to
rapidly adapt may overwhelm many societies—thereby
upsetting the geopolitical balance of power.

Though triggered by warming, such change would
probably cause cooling in the Northern Hemisphere,
leading to longer, harsher winters in much of the U.S.
and Europe. Worse, it would cause massive droughts,
turning farmland to dust bowls and forests to ashes.
Picture last fall's California wildfires as a regular
thing. Or imagine similar disasters destabilizing
nuclear powers such as Pakistan or Russia—it's easy to
see why the Pentagon has become interested in abrupt
climate change.

Climate researchers began getting seriously concerned
about it a decade ago, after studying temperature
indicators embedded in ancient layers of Arctic ice.
The data show that a number of dramatic shifts in
average temperature took place in the past with
shocking speed—in some cases, just a few years.

The case for angst was buttressed by a theory regarded
as the most likely explanation for the abrupt changes.
The eastern U.S. and northern Europe, it seems, are
warmed by a huge Atlantic Ocean current that flows
north from the tropics—that's why Britain, at
Labrador's latitude, is relatively temperate. Pumping
out warm, moist air, this "great conveyor" current
gets cooler and denser as it moves north. That causes
the current to sink in the North Atlantic, where it
heads south again in the ocean depths. The sinking
process draws more water from the south, keeping the
roughly circular current on the go.

But when the climate warms, according to the theory,
fresh water from melting Arctic glaciers flows into
the North Atlantic, lowering the current's
salinity—and its density and tendency to sink. A
warmer climate also increases rainfall and runoff into
the current, further lowering its saltiness. As a
result, the conveyor loses its main motive force and
can rapidly collapse, turning off the huge heat pump
and altering the climate over much of the Northern

Scientists aren't sure what caused the warming that
triggered such collapses in the remote past. (Clearly
it wasn't humans and their factories.) But the data
from Arctic ice and other sources suggest the
atmospheric changes that preceded earlier collapses
were dismayingly similar to today's global warming. As
the Ice Age began drawing to a close about 13,000
years ago, for example, temperatures in Greenland rose
to levels near those of recent decades. Then they
abruptly plunged as the conveyor apparently shut down,
ushering in the "Younger Dryas" period, a 1,300-year
reversion to ice-age conditions. (A dryas is an Arctic
flower that flourished in Europe at the time.)

Though Mother Nature caused past abrupt climate
changes, the one that may be shaping up today probably
has more to do with us. In 2001 an international panel
of climate experts concluded that there is
increasingly strong evidence that most of the global
warming observed over the past 50 years is
attributable to human activities—mainly the burning of
fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which release
heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Indicators of the
warming include shrinking Arctic ice, melting alpine
glaciers, and markedly earlier springs at northerly
latitudes. A few years ago such changes seemed signs
of possible trouble for our kids or grandkids. Today
they seem portents of a cataclysm that may not
conveniently wait until we're history.

Accordingly, the spotlight in climate research is
shifting from gradual to rapid change. In 2002 the
National Academy of Sciences issued a report
concluding that human activities could trigger abrupt
change. Last year the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland, included a session at which Robert
Gagosian, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution in Massachusetts, urged policymakers to
consider the implications of possible abrupt climate
change within two decades.

Such jeremiads are beginning to reverberate more
widely. Billionaire Gary Comer, founder of Lands' End,
has adopted abrupt climate change as a philanthropic
cause. Hollywood has also discovered the issue—next
summer 20th Century Fox is expected to release The Day
After Tomorrow, a big-budget disaster movie starring
Dennis Quaid as a scientist trying to save the world
from an ice age precipitated by global warming.

Fox's flick will doubtless be apocalyptically
edifying. But what would abrupt climate change really
be like?

Scientists generally refuse to say much about that,
citing a data deficit. But recently, renowned
Department of Defense planner Andrew Marshall
sponsored a groundbreaking effort to come to grips
with the question. A Pentagon legend, Marshall, 82, is
known as the Defense Department's "Yoda"—a balding,
bespectacled sage whose pronouncements on looming
risks have long had an outsized influence on defense
policy. Since 1973 he has headed a secretive think
tank whose role is to envision future threats to
national security. The Department of Defense's push on
ballistic-missile defense is known as his brainchild.
Three years ago Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
picked him to lead a sweeping review on military
"transformation," the shift toward nimble forces and
smart weapons.

When scientists' work on abrupt climate change popped
onto his radar screen, Marshall tapped another eminent
visionary, Peter Schwartz, to write a report on the
national-security implications of the threat. Schwartz
formerly headed planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group
and has since consulted with organizations ranging
from the CIA to DreamWorks—he helped create futuristic
scenarios for Steven Spielberg's film Minority Report.
Schwartz and co-author Doug Randall at the Monitor
Group's Global Business Network, a scenario-planning
think tank in Emeryville, Calif., contacted top
climate experts and pushed them to talk about what-ifs
that they usually shy away from—at least in public.

The result is an unclassified report, completed late
last year, that the Pentagon has agreed to share with
FORTUNE. It doesn't pretend to be a forecast. Rather,
it sketches a dramatic but plausible scenario to help
planners think about coping strategies. Here is an
abridged version:

A total shutdown of the ocean conveyor might lead to a
big chill like the Younger Dryas, when icebergs
appeared as far south as the coast of Portugal. Or the
conveyor might only temporarily slow down, potentially
causing an era like the "Little Ice Age," a time of
hard winters, violent storms, and droughts between
1300 and 1850. That period's weather extremes caused
horrific famines, but it was mild compared with the
Younger Dryas.

For planning purposes, it makes sense to focus on a
midrange case of abrupt change. A century of cold,
dry, windy weather across the Northern Hemisphere that
suddenly came on 8,200 years ago fits the bill—its
severity fell between that of the Younger Dryas and
the Little Ice Age. The event is thought to have been
triggered by a conveyor collapse after a time of
rising temperatures not unlike today's global warming.
Suppose it recurred, beginning in 2010. Here are some
of the things that might happen by 2020:

At first the changes are easily mistaken for normal
weather variation—allowing skeptics to dismiss them as
a "blip" of little importance and leaving policymakers
and the public paralyzed with uncertainty. But by 2020
there is little doubt that something drastic is
happening. The average temperature has fallen by up to
five degrees Fahrenheit in some regions of North
America and Asia and up to six degrees in parts of
Europe. (By comparison, the average temperature over
the North Atlantic during the last ice age was ten to
15 degrees lower than it is today.) Massive droughts
have begun in key agricultural regions. The average
annual rainfall has dropped by nearly 30% in northern
Europe, and its climate has become more like

Violent storms are increasingly common as the conveyor
becomes wobbly on its way to collapse. A particularly
severe storm causes the ocean to break through levees
in the Netherlands, making coastal cities such as the
Hague unlivable. In California the delta island levees
in the Sacramento River area are breached, disrupting
the aqueduct system transporting water from north to

Megadroughts afflict the U.S., especially in the
southern states, along with winds that are 15%
stronger on average than they are now, causing
widespread dust storms and soil loss. The U.S. is
better positioned to cope than most nations, however,
thanks to its diverse growing climates, wealth,
technology, and abundant resources. That has a
downside, though: It magnifies the haves-vs.-have-nots
gap and fosters bellicose finger-pointing at America.

Turning inward, the U.S. effectively seeks to build a
fortress around itself to preserve resources. Borders
are strengthened to hold back starving immigrants from
Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean islands—waves
of boat people pose especially grim problems. Tension
between the U.S. and Mexico rises as the U.S. reneges
on a 1944 treaty that guarantees water flow from the
Colorado River into Mexico. America is forced to meet
its rising energy demand with options that are costly
both economically and politically, including nuclear
power and onerous Middle Eastern contracts. Yet it
survives without catastrophic losses.

Europe, hardest hit by its temperature drop, struggles
to deal with immigrants from Scandinavia seeking
warmer climes to the south. Southern Europe is
beleaguered by refugees from hard-hit countries in
Africa and elsewhere. But Western Europe's wealth
helps buffer it from catastrophe.

Australia's size and resources help it cope, as does
its location—the conveyor shutdown mainly affects the
Northern Hemisphere. Japan has fewer resources but is
able to draw on its social cohesion to cope—its
government is able to induce population-wide behavior
changes to conserve resources.

China's huge population and food demand make it
particularly vulnerable. It is hit by increasingly
unpredictable monsoon rains, which cause devastating
floods in drought-denuded areas. Other parts of Asia
and East Africa are similarly stressed. Much of
Bangladesh becomes nearly uninhabitable because of a
rising sea level, which contaminates inland water
supplies. Countries whose diversity already produces
conflict, such as India and Indonesia, are
hard-pressed to maintain internal order while coping
with the unfolding changes.

As the decade progresses, pressures to act become
irresistible—history shows that whenever humans have
faced a choice between starving or raiding, they raid.
Imagine Eastern European countries, struggling to feed
their populations, invading Russia—which is weakened
by a population that is already in decline—for access
to its minerals and energy supplies. Or picture Japan
eyeing nearby Russian oil and gas reserves to power
desalination plants and energy-intensive farming.
Envision nuclear-armed Pakistan, India, and China
skirmishing at their borders over refugees, access to
shared rivers, and arable land. Or Spain and Portugal
fighting over fishing rights—fisheries are disrupted
around the world as water temperatures change, causing
fish to migrate to new habitats.

Growing tensions engender novel alliances. Canada
joins fortress America in a North American bloc.
(Alternatively, Canada may seek to keep its abundant
hydropower for itself, straining its ties with the
energy-hungry U.S.) North and South Korea align to
create a technically savvy, nuclear-armed entity.
Europe forms a truly unified bloc to curb its
immigration problems and protect against aggressors.
Russia, threatened by impoverished neighbors in dire
straits, may join the European bloc.

Nuclear arms proliferation is inevitable. Oil supplies
are stretched thin as climate cooling drives up
demand. Many countries seek to shore up their energy
supplies with nuclear energy, accelerating nuclear
proliferation. Japan, South Korea, and Germany develop
nuclear-weapons capabilities, as do Iran, Egypt, and
North Korea. Israel, China, India, and Pakistan also
are poised to use the bomb.

The changes relentlessly hammer the world's "carrying
capacity"—the natural resources, social organizations,
and economic networks that support the population.
Technological progress and market forces, which have
long helped boost Earth's carrying capacity, can do
little to offset the crisis—it is too widespread and
unfolds too fast.

As the planet's carrying capacity shrinks, an ancient
pattern reemerges: the eruption of desperate, all-out
wars over food, water, and energy supplies. As Harvard
archeologist Steven LeBlanc has noted, wars over
resources were the norm until about three centuries
ago. When such conflicts broke out, 25% of a
population's adult males usually died. As abrupt
climate change hits home, warfare may again come to
define human life.

Over the past decade, data have accumulated suggesting
that the plausibility of abrupt climate change is
higher than most of the scientific community, and
perhaps all of the political community, are prepared
to accept. In light of such findings, we should be
asking when abrupt change will happen, what the
impacts will be, and how we can prepare—not whether it
will really happen. In fact, the climate record
suggests that abrupt change is inevitable at some
point, regardless of human activity. Among other
things, we should:

• Speed research on the forces that can trigger abrupt
climate change, how it unfolds, and how we'll know
it's occurring.

• Sponsor studies on the scenarios that might play
out, including ecological, social, economic, and
political fallout on key food-producing regions.

• Identify "no regrets" strategies to ensure reliable
access to food and water and to ensure our national

• Form teams to prepare responses to possible massive
migration, and food and water shortages.

• Explore ways to offset abrupt cooling—today it
appears easier to warm than to cool the climate via
human activities, so there may be "geo-engineering"
options available to prevent a catastrophic
temperature drop.

In sum, the risk of abrupt climate change remains
uncertain, and it is quite possibly small. But given
its dire consequences, it should be elevated beyond a
scientific debate. Action now matters, because we may
be able to reduce its likelihood of happening, and we
can certainly be better prepared if it does. It is
time to recognize it as a national security concern.

The Pentagon's reaction to this sobering report isn't
known—in keeping with his reputation for reticence,
Andy Marshall declined to be interviewed. But the fact
that he's concerned may signal a sea change in the
debate about global warming. At least some federal
thought leaders may be starting to perceive climate
change less as a political annoyance and more as an
issue demanding action.

If so, the case for acting now to address climate
change, long a hard sell in Washington, may be gaining
influential support, if only behind the scenes.
Policymakers may even be emboldened to take steps such
as tightening fuel-economy standards for new passenger
vehicles, a measure that would simultaneously lower
emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce America's
perilous reliance on OPEC oil, cut its trade deficit,
and put money in consumers' pockets. Oh, yes—and give
the Pentagon's fretful Yoda a little less to worry

Feedback: dstipp@fortunemail.com

Posted by richard at February 10, 2004 11:05 AM