Cancer of the Planet

Climate change is a slow growing cancer of the planet. Day to day there may be no noticeable symptomatic changes. As time goes on, if nothing is done about the root problem, something very bad, even fatal is inevitably going to happen.

We gloss over climate changes from day to day and even year to year. However at some point symptoms become too extreme to ignore. We are then forced to take remedial or coping action. We may also be forced to deal with geo-political crises, even war, brought about by the social and political stresses which can accompany changes in the climate.

Sixteen retired Generals and Admirals from all branches of service recently authored a report titled “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change”. The group comprises the Military Advisory Board for the not-for-profit CNA Corporation. The top tier of our military leaders rank with the best anywhere in thinking strategically about the forces and tensions shaping the relationships between people, groups and nations. Their job is to imagine the worst things that can happen and prepare for them.

The authors are pragmatists and recognize that you must deal with situations based on the information available. One of the board members, General Gordon Sullivan, United State Army, Retired states “Speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen”. This is a message that needs to be heard by the those politicians and decision makers who are reluctant to deal with climate change issues because there is still an element of uncertainty.

The population of the world will grow from the present 7.1 billion to 8 billion by 2025. With this many people and a worldwide growth of middle class aspirations, demand for food will rise by 35 percent, water by 40 percent, and energy by an astounding 50 percent in just fifteen years. Climate change is a multiplier to the water-food-energy nexus which will be a major cause of instability and conflict in the world going forward. Even the seemingly interminable religious wars trace their origins to these same issues.

Nowhere is the impact of climate change more apparent than in the Arctic. The greatest recorded summer decline of the Arctic ice pack was in 2012 and we are close to another record this year. Eight nations, including the US and Russia, hold somewhat disputed territorial claims to portions of the Arctic. There has recently been a hundredfold increase in navel operations in this fragile environment which holds up to one-tenth of the world’s undiscovered oil and one-third of the undiscovered gas. The international community is grappling with accelerating changes in the Arctic, and the potential conflicts are increasing sharply.

Melting ice in the Arctic and elsewhere contributes to rising sea levels, impacting much of the world population. Fifteen of the 20 largest urban areas in the world are located on coasts. Fourteen of the 20 are in Asia. The Maldives, Bangladesh, even Florida and New York will be severely stressed with rising sea levels.

These are but a few of the examples and issues cited in this assessment report. Impacts on military, infrastructure, economic and social structures are all clearly identified as potential national security concerns.

The planet has cancer. To ignore the symptoms could be fatal.

Muscatine Journal 07/19/13