Saturday, August 2, 2008

So What's the Problem?

Lots of posts on the Internet state that global warming is a scam or a joke. But a group of generals and admirals is not laughing. “Global climate change is and will be a significant threat to our national security and, in a larger sense, to life on earth as we know it to be,” General Gordon R. Sullivan, a retired US Army chief of staff, told a Congressional committee last September.

Sullivan headed a military advisory board to a defense contractor that took a close look at the controversial issue and then sent a report to the Pentagon titled National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. “The path to mitigating the worst security consequences of climate change involves reducing global greenhouse gas emissions,” Sullivan added. “There is a relationship between carbon emissions and our national security. I think that the evidence is there that would suggest that we have to start paying attention.”

The retired general did not come to this conclusion as a tree-hugger activist. The only thing green about Sullivan is his uniform. “The retired officers who made up the CNA panel are hardly environmentalists, and many said they came to the report skeptical of climate change,” Time Magazine reported on its website in conjunction with a special environmental issue in April. “That was then. ‘It's now a mainstream security issue, not a fringe movement for tree-huggers and Birkenstock wearers,’ says Sherri Goodman, who chaired the CNA report and served as deputy Undersecretary of Defense for environmental security in the Clinton Administration — a position that does not exist today. ‘It's affecting the lives of billions and so we've got to understand what those threats are, and how to plan for them and reduce them.’”

What was it that got these retired military commanders’ attention? Having served in the military during the Cold War, when the top priority was preventing a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, they knew that some human activities could have devastating global effects—such as thousands of nuclear missile explosions blanketing the sky with smoke that might block out sunlight and trigger a “nuclear winter.”

“The CNA Report likens the threat of climate change to that of the strategic threats we endured during the Cold War, that is: while the probability of disastrous climate change cannot be determined with certainty, the effects of climate change (if current trends continue) on international security are so great that one must prepare to deal with severe security consequences,” retired Vice Admiral Paul G. Gaffney II testified in Congressional hearings in June. “First principle: whether one believes climate change will happen or not, the effects if it does happen are dangerous enough that security forces must plan for it.”

Speaking before another Congressional committee in June, Goodman, the former Pentagon official overseeing environmental security, said: “In the last year, the debate on climate change in the United States has shifted from ‘Whether it is happening’ to ‘What should we do about it?’” The first thing, Goodman and the retired military officers emphasized, is to make this issue a top national priority.

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