Image courtesy of Flickr user B Tal
Climate and security are back in the news, with both the New Yorker and [h/t CP] WaPo running articles in response to a recent conference entitled: “The Next World: How Should the United States Respond to Rising Powers?” held jointly by the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, and the globalization-oriented think tanks the New America Foundation and the Stanley Foundation.
The overarching theme of the conference was America’s role in a non-polar world, and both the New Yorker and WaPo articles focused on its climate-security implications. Paronomasia aside, climate change is being increasingly viewed as a serious security concern among defense and intelligence experts, as threats at least as deserving of attention as our current terrorism and WMD-proliferation focuses. This is significant, as Ezra Klein notes, because traditionally large militaries such as ours make the repeated error of preparing to fight the battle they’ve most recently fought as opposed to the battle that may have to fight down the road:
In the 90s we were pumping cash into a military built for the great power conflict of the Cold War. Then we got hit by a major terrorist attack that germinated in the autocracies of the Middle East. So now we’re spending incredible amounts of money to defend against terror attacks and overturn Arab (and maybe Persian) regimes that we sense to be a threat. John McCain has decided to focus his foreign policy on creating conflict with Russia. But the next major blow — and we’re talking larger than 3,000 dead and our sense of security shattered — is fairly likely to be a pandemic or global economic dislocation stemming from global warming or a sustained reduction in American living standards as we find ourselves incapable of competing as the global labor force doubles.
The obvious solution, as many have argued for at least the better part of the decade (a chorus Thomas Friedman has only recently joined), is to holistically address these interrelated issues by revitalizing American education and labor in order to achieve supremacy- or at least ensure our competitiveness- in clean energy science and technology.
Any globally-binding agreement to stabilize emissions with a prayer of working is going to involve technology transfer from the developed world to the developing (which itself can reduce the threat of terrorism against the US by improving global quality of life and reducing the influence of petro-regimes harboring anti-American sentiments). What better way to insulate ourselves from the shock of losing our relative economic hegemony than to become the primary source for the technology and training undergirding the economies of the 21st century? It will be a long term, costly investment, there is no doubt. But what are the reasonable alternatives given the global dynamics in play?
Along with the insurance and business worlds, the defense and intelligence communities are growing more vocal in naming climate change as an emerging threat to be taken seriously now, even as its reality and attribution are refuted by our politicians domestically and attempts at regulation are challenged at every turn. The people of this country have an unambiguous choice if they wish to make climate, energy, and science priorities in this election- all one has to do is read the official party platforms to see that at least on these key issues, there is a clear difference. To those who believe national security is the defining issue of this election, the Post and New Yorker articles should be food for thought.
[UPDATE: Susan Hockfield, President of MIT, makes the same case for a holistic, science/clean tech investment solution to the interrelated problems facing the country in the 21st century in a WaPo op-ed on 9/11/08:
Today, the United States is tangled in a triple knot: a shaky economy, battered by volatile energy prices; world politics weighed down by issues of energy consumption and security; and mounting evidence of global climate change.
Building on the wisdom of Vannevar Bush, I believe we can address all three problems at once with dramatic new federal investment in energy research and development. If one advance could transform America’s prospects, it would be ready access, at scale, to a range of affordable, renewable, low-carbon energy technologies — from large-scale solar and wind energy to safe nuclear power. Only one path will lead to such transformative technologies: research. Yet federal funding for energy research has dwindled to irrelevance. In 1980, 10 percent of federal research dollars went to energy. Today, the share is 2 percent.
H/T to Environmental Capital]