Carbon and security

In an Editorial (17 Aug 09) on “The Climate and National Security” the New York Times lamented that Congress has thus far not legislated for “a plausible strategy” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem, when it comes to motivating politicians, is that the dangers from global warming-drought, famine, rising seas-appear to be decades off. But the only way to prevent them is with sacrifices in the here and now: with smaller cars, bigger investments in new energy sources, higher electricity bills that will inevitably result once we put a price on carbon.

Mainstream scientists warn that the longer the world waits, the sooner it will reach a tipping point beyond which even draconian measures may not be enough. [. . .] That is why Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-no alarmist-has warned that “what we do in the next two or three years will determine our future.” And he said that two years ago.

This much we know. The NYT goes on to note that all the arguments about green jobs and the damage likely from climate change “have not been enough to fully engage the public, or overcome the lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel industry.” Perhaps Australians are more attentive to the threat of climate change than Americans, but not enough to persuade the political conservatives.

Proponents of climate change legislation have now settled on a new strategy: warning that global warming poses a serious threat to national security. Climate-induced crises like drought, starvation, disease and mass migration, they argue, could unleash regional conflicts and draw in America’ armed forces, either to help keep the peace or to defend allies or supply routes. This is increasingly the accepted wisdom among the national security establishment. A 2007 report published by the CNA Corporation, a Pentagon-funded think tank, spoke ominously of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that could lead to wide conflict over resources.

This line of argument could also be pretty good politics-especially on Capitol Hill, where many politicians will do anything for the Pentagon. [. . .] National security is hardly the only reason to address global warming, but at this point anything that advances the cause is welcome.

Australians are not overly worried about national security, but such an argument might help here. We are at least as much at risk as the United States.