National Security and Climate Change in Perspective

Kurt M. Campbell and Christine Parthemore n early 2007 the group responsible for setting the "Doomsday Clock," a depiction of the risks of imminent worldwide catastrophe, cited the threat of climate change as one reason for moving its minute hand two minutes closer to midnight.1 Although the nuclear-era clock is perhaps an imperfect depiction of the nature of the challenge posed by climate change—the cumulative impact of human activities that affect the environment versus the kind of events that lead to a sudden conflict—climate change can provide profound and urgent threats to the well-being of mankind. Yet the risk that such catastrophe may lie at this intersection of climate change and national security is not as well understood as it should be, despite decades of exploration of the relationship between the two fields. The overall purpose of this book is to fill this gap: to provide a primer on how climate change can serve to undermine the security of the planet.

For most of 2006 and 2007, a diverse group of experts, under the direction and leadership of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), met regularly to start a new and important conversation about this security-and-climate-change nexus and to consider the potential future foreign policy and national security implications. Our collaboration engaged climate scientists and national security specialists in a lengthy dialogue on the security implications of future climate change. As one notable scholar intoned more than a decade ago, it is necessary for such diverse professionals to "acquire detailed knowledge of a daunting range of disciplines, from atmospheric science and agricultural hydrology to energy economics and international relations theory."2 His advice has largely been ignored, and even our eclectic group occasionally struggled to "speak the same language." But a shared sense of purpose helped us develop a common vocabulary and mutual respect, and begin the daunting process of closing these knowledge gaps among us.

A distinguished group of nationally recognized leaders was identified and recruited from the fields of climate science, foreign policy, political science, oceanography, history, and national security to take part in this endeavor. Members of the group included Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate in economics in 2005; Jay Gulledge, senior scientist, Pew Center on Global Climate Change; Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences; Bob Correll, fellow of the American Meteorological Society; Terrence Joyce, senior scientist, and Richard Pittenger, former vice president, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Mike MacCracken, chief scientist, Climate Institute; John McNeill, professor of history, Georgetown University; James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA; John Podesta, chief of staff of President Bill Clinton; Leon Fuerth, national security adviser to Vice President Al Gore; Jessica Bailey, sustainable development program officer, Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rand Beers, president, Valley Forge Initiative; Sherri Goodman, general counsel, Center for Naval Analysis; Derek Chollet, senior fellow, Center for a New American Security; Eileen Claussen, president, Pew Center on Global Climate Change; Gayle Smith, senior fellow, Center for American Progress; Daniel Poneman, principal, the Scowcroft Group; Susan Rice, senior fellow, the Brookings Institution; and Wendy Sherman, principal, the Albright Group.

The mandate of the exercise was, on its face, very straightforward: employ the best available evidence and climate models, and imagine three future worlds that fall within the range of scientific plausibility. Such scenario planning is more than a creative writing exercise: it is a tool used successfully by businesses and governments all over the world to anticipate future events and plan more wisely in the present. The scenarios in this report use the time frame of a national security planner: thirty years, the time it takes to get major military platforms from the drawing board to the battlefield. The exception is the third, catastrophic, scenario, which extends out to a century from now.

Although the intersection of climate change and national security has yet to be fully mapped, there is a long, rich history of scholars and strategists exploring this territory. We felt it was important to begin this volume by examining this literature, in order to understand how we might begin to build on and depart from the existing intellectual framework and why the challenge of climate change remains unresolved.

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Disaster Survival Guides Collection

Disaster Survival Guides Collection

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