How Climate Change Impacts National Security

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Pakistan climate change

Pakistan climate change

An advisory panel assembled by the National Research Council, an independent provider of scientific expertise that’s chartered by Congress, has stated that U.S. intelligence agencies should take climate change and its resulting impacts more seriously.

The 14-member panel, which acknowledges that intelligence agencies are already studying how global temperatures will affect national security, advises that intelligence agencies should place a greater “emphasis on the likelihood of widespread social upheaval.” Specifically, the panel suggests that intelligence agencies see how climate change would impact local communities and how that, in turn, would affect political conditions.

In a report the panel reveals that effort and measures taken thus far are inadequate. “There’s a lot going on, there are pieces here, but it isn’t organized to the extent that it ought to be,” said John D. Steinbruner, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland at College Park who led the panel on behalf of the National Research Council.

The panel, consisting primarily of university experts, listed places of risk, which includes Pakistan. The Chronicle writes:

Millions of people depend on water delivered from the Himalaya Mountains by the Indus River. Pakistan experienced a series of electrical blackouts and shortages of irrigation water between 2010 and 2012 as a result of decreased water levels in the Indus. The shortages were part of a long-term decline in per-capita water availability, which by 2010 was less than a third of what it was in the 1950s, the report says.

The water shortages, it says, led to demonstrations and riots of increasing frequency and intensity in 2010 and 2011. Those events worsened political relations between India and Pakistan, both of which have nuclear weapons. In such cases, the U.S. government, if sufficiently aware of the developing crisis, could act to avert catastrophic conflicts, such as by taking more aggressive steps to help local communities establish alternative power supplies, Mr. Steinbruner said.

“Understanding the connections between harm suffered from climate events and political and social outcomes of security concern is arguably the most important aspect of climate change from a national-security perspective,” the report says. “But it has received relatively little scientific attention until now.”

Mr. Steinbruner admits there are limitations for the U.S. government since global warming already has a huge momentum. He tells The Chronicle that the “deep ocean waters have reached temperatures last seen about 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were about 13 to 20 feet higher than they are now” and that “ocean temperatures will soon gain another degree, bringing them to the warmth of the Pliocene Epoch, about three million years ago, when oceans were 80 feet higher.”

All this sends an ominous sign to Steinbruner. “This is looking to me like very big trouble. Very, very big trouble,” says Steinbruner.

Photo by Fantaz