Cherry Picking Risks

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 20, 2011 9:23 PM


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In the Guardian, Jules Boykoff takes stock of the seriousness with which national security experts inside and outside the U.S. military view climate change, a subject I've often take up here and elsewhere. As Boykoff drily notes:

This isn't a tree-hugging festival. It's the US military and its partners making clear-eyed calculations based on the best available climate science. So, why this quiet camaraderie between scientists and military higher-ups? The answer, most certainly, is uncertainty. Uncertainty is an inherent element of honest science. But in the political sphere, uncertainty has been harnessed as an alibi for denial and inaction. The military, however, operates under conditions of uncertainty all the time. Like scientists, they wade through the unknown to assess varying degrees of risk. As CNA Corporation put it, military leaders "don't see the range of possibilities as justification for inaction. Risk is at the heart of their job."

This is an issue that really should be aired out more in the climate debate. It would also be an opening for a much wider discussion on the whole spectrum of risk and climate change that some are claiming (legitimately, in my mind), is not being addressed:

There is a mismatch between the analysis of the severity of climate security threats and the political, diplomatic, policy and financial investment countries expend to avoid the attendant risks.

Boykoff, in his Guardian piece, says that Republican military hawks in Congress who are hostile to climate science are letting ideology trump national security concerns:

Climate cranks "“ many of them the same people perpetually hectoring us about the perils of national security "“ are choosing to ignore the seriousness of climate change even when the national-security experts they champion are telling us to do just that. Talk about cherry-picking data.

He makes a suggestion that I would second (but put differently):

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been holding shambolic hearings on climate change, should invite climate-minded national security gurus to testify. Perhaps they can lob some reality into the ideological fortress of denial before whipsaw climate volatility becomes our everyday reality.

First of all, there have been previous climate-related Congressional hearings, which have included testimony from both the intelligence community, and the U.S. military, on the implications of climate change for U.S. national security. What would be better is a future hearing devoted just to the nexus of national security, energy and climate change, that is framed around risk scenarios that the U.S. military is taking seriously.

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