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From The Halls of Montezuma

Posted on 9 April 2011 by citizenschallenge, Daniel Bailey

A frustrating part of the public dialogue is the labels being bandied about - skeptic this and skeptic that.  Who is the real skeptic, and who is hiding behind labels to defend faith-based assumptions built around desires and fears?

While blogosphere climate change “skeptics” escalate their unscientific rhetorical attacks comfortably removed from the consequences of their actions, there’s a group of genuine skeptics who don’t have such a luxury:  Our US Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rest of our military brass.

The Professionals in Risk Management

The USA's career military officers, many battlefield hardened, and all thoroughly professional, carry the weight of knowing that how they assess the incoming scientific information will have far-reaching consequences.

Therefore, it’s worth reviewing how this group of leaders has approached the Global Warming debate and what conclusions they have drawn from the scientific information at hand.  For example:

Navy Vice Admiral McGinn has pointed out:

“You never have 100% certainty about anything, and if you wait for 100% certainty on the battle field something bad is going to happen.”

 McGinn then goes on to remind us:   

“The challenges are certainly daunting, but at the same time create tremendous opportunities”

Wesley Clark Supreme Allied Commander of Nato (retired):    

“We need a profound understanding of the urgency of the situation... It’s not an EPA problem, it is a National Security problem”

“We have Global Warming right now, and we have to deal with the consequences and we need to be preparing our government organizations, our command and control, exercise programs to deal with the effects of the climate change that’s already on us...”

Chief Oceanographer of the US Navy, David Titley was another long time serious skeptic regarding anthropogenic global warming.  Yet the weight of evidence caused him to have a change of heart which he does an elegant job of describing.

Video:  "I Was Formerly a Climate Skeptic” (9 min)

Reports and Assessments

In 2006 the Center for Naval Analyses convened a Military Advisory Board of eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals to assess the impact of global climate change on key matters of national security, and to lay the groundwork for mounting responses to the threats found.

Finished in 2007 the report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, found that:

“... climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in critical regions of the world.”

And that secondly:

“energy security, climate change and international security are inextricably linked.”

This report was followed by another CNA report: Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security  exploring the impact of America's energy choices on our national security policies.  

The Pew Trust initiated a study titled: The Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate” their report is available at:  “Reenergizing America’s Defense - How the Armed Forces Are Stepping Forward to Combat Climate Change and Improve the U.S. Energy Posture”

For further information, Peter Sinclair has done a great job of heavy lifting and produced a page packed with more resources over at  “Climate Denial Crock of the Week - Climate Change and National Security"

Retired General Zinni of the Marine Corps and member of the MAB panel, placed our challenge into perspective when he said:

"The point is if you just write off the science, if you don’t accept what seems to me to be the majority view, then you are saying your going to roll the dice and take the chance. I think if you look at the potential outcomes of that, we would see that for our children and our grandchildren that that would be a disaster, and they’ll look back at us and will say you should have seen this, you should have taken a prudent course and prepared for this.  You should have taken the action to lessen the impact"

End Game

The establishment climatology community has come under attack and minute examination; an attack founded on political principles rather than a good faith desire for better understanding.  We have science associations, insurance associations, international bankers, military leaders and many more who have examined the issue with a skeptical eye tempered by responsibility.  All accept the consensus of climatology experts.  Shouldn’t that tell a skeptic something?

What these military experts are saying is that according to their own evaluation of all available scientific evidence backed by their own years of experience in the evaluation of information, climate change poses a security threat to the USA.  It's possible that this evaluation is wrong but, as with any good risk manager, the military doesn't put all their eggs in the low probability "consensus is wrong" basket and hope for the best.  Quite the opposite, in fact: the military plans for all possible scenarios, including the worst case.  The question is, why isn't the US government doing the same?  By failing to plan for the worst case, and even for the most likely scenarios, they are putting our welfare and security at risk.

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. I am uncomfortable with David Tilley's blood alcohol analogy, not only for the suggestion that people who don't drink are boring, and that getting drunk is fun. It also suggest the current carbon dioxide levels are OK (the analogy to the blood alcohol level of .04 %). In fact, I think current carbon dioxide concentrations are dangerous and need to be reduced.
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  2. Peter @ 1... Perhaps a better analogy is strychnine. I believe a lethal dose of strychnine is well below 450ppm relative to the human body. Small portions of certain substances can certainly have large effects.
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  3. Peter Bellin #1 In fact, I think current carbon dioxide concentrations are dangerous and need to be reduced. Totally agree. Pliocene had similar CO2 concentrations and perhaps 25m higher sea level.
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  4. Delighted to General Anthony Zinni on there. Zinni is a tough Marine, ramrod straight and nobody's fool .. he was George W. Bush's special envoy to the Middle East early in his Presidency, was commander of CENTCOM, warned early (before 9/11) of the dangers of terrorism coming out of Afghanistan, opposed the Iraq War, but supported the "surges" by Bush and Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. His opposition to the Iraq adventure meant he was sidelined from the military after 2003. His track record of not pandering to anyone speaks for itself, and it is tremendously encouraging to a see a soldier and diplomat of his obvious quality and intelligence speaking up. General Anthony Zinni
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  5. So David Titley is a true skeptic then, good for him. Peter @ 1, I agree. It is a very good analogy, he just needs to present it differently. The message is that trace amounts can make a significant difference. The legal alcohol level for driving is 0.08% --double the number he gave, but if we continue on this path that is where we are heading, in a metephorical sense of course.
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  6. I agree with Peter about the blood alcohol analogy. This part of his presentation seems geared towards new recruits rather than the somber crowd he seems to be addressing. OTOH his basic premise is that a “small” change of something minuscule can indeed make a big difference is true. While we’re talking about presentation…I would not say that 390ppmv is too dangerous and needs to be reduced (at least until some energy efficient, low cost form of C sequestration is developed) for 2 reasons: 1) I don’t believe it. We are indeed flirting with danger (we could argue about the definition of “flirting with danger” vs “dangerous” but regardless I put it as a lower danger than you seem to despite similar CO2 levels. Humans are adaptable, Pliocene time scales are vast. 2) More importantly: It feeds the fourth stage of denialism*: The attitude that all is lost so we may as well party on. Related to my point #1…Although we all know that that the sun was dimmer half a million years ago, I have never seen anyone quantify the earth’s core heat flux changes due to the decay of radio nucleotides. Has anyone here seen a paper or discussion addressing this factor? Is it significant? Thanks, arch *(1=”It’s not happening” 2=”It’s happening but it is not bad” , 3=”It’s bad but we are not causing it” 4="It’s happening, it’s bad, we are causing it but there is nothing we can do about it”).
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  7. Although my point about the sun not being as bright a half a million years ago is true, I actually was intending to refer to the Pliocene and I should have said “5 million”. What’s an order of magnitude among friends? (oops)
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    Moderator Response: [DB] As long as that order includes buying a round for your friends, no worries at all!
  8. Daniel - sure, belly up all! (1 round but not 10)
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  9. Here's an interesting perspective: The popular debate surrounding “global warming” is rife with emotion and has paralyzed U.S. policymakers. Military planners, however, remain divorced from the emotional content of the topic, looking at possible future scenarios and conducting planning to address the associated challenges and threats arising from sharp changes in climate. Guess they haven't heard that 'its all just natural oscillation.'
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  10. Yes, the US military understands the risks. To add to the list, current JCS chief, Admiral Mike Mullen said, "we are in fact seeing evidence of climate change’s potential impacts on our security." Next, in response to "The question is, why isn't the US government doing the same?", I'm not so sure that's entirely true. Most branches of the US government are indeed taking strong, if not unsteady, action on climate change. The Supreme Court's endangerment finding, the executive order to buy only electric/hybrid/or alternative fueled vehicles by the end of 2012, and a host of other examples show that positive action is being taken. Maybe its not enough, or fast enough, but the giant ship of state is turning around. It takes a while. Except the House, of course, which clearly has been bought by the fossil fueled denial campaign. Please join in our campaign to get your local businesses to say loudly that the "U.S. Chamber of Commerce Doesn't Speak For Me!" Once the sources of the dirty money are exposed, things will change.
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  11. The blood-alcohol analogy is missing the bit where you've got yourself decked in a fist fight and then spend the remainder of the night 'driving the porcelain bus' at .08 'Which ones do you want to party with?' Yikes - I think this is exactly the wrong way to message this. 'Hey, only uptight, uncool types want to do anything about CO2' is about as counter-productive a messages as could be imagined. Something that there should never be the slightest risk of anyone taking away from a presentation. But the message along the lines of 'if you don't think such trace amounts make any difference, tell it to the cops at the breathalyser' is a sound one.
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  12. To me a better analogy for the effects of CO2 than blood alcohol or tiny doses of poison like strychnine is semiconductors. Tiny impurities and the movement of even just a few electrons can cause large changes in current.
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  13. The NAS has a new report out (story here): "National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces" FINDING 2.5 (page 69): "In the post–Cold War era, the U.S. Navy has had a very limited surface ship presence in true northern latitude, cold-weather conditions. According to information presented to the committee, the U.S. military as a whole has lost most of its competence in cold-weather operations for high-Arctic warfare." RECOMMENDATION 3.4 (page 84): "For risk management purposes, U.S. naval leaders would be prudent to err on the side of overestimation of future sea-level rise when renovating existing or planning new coastal facilities. The Navy and other branches of U.S. services that have historic commitments to HA/DR efforts for the United States and beyond need to consider as highly probable the need to enhance these capabilities to be prepared for increased damage from coastal storms." RECOMMENDATION 6.2 (page 119): "The Chief of Naval Research, the Oceanographer of the Navy, and the Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, should consider findings by the MEDEA Program (and take lessons from MEDEA actions within the intelligence community) to develop and support a Navy philosophy for providing access to previously classified information that can be used by the climate research community. Such actions would enhance the potential of these researchers to help the Navy better prepare for its mission in a future with a warmer climate." Acronyms: humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) The Yooper
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