There is no foreseeable political or technological solution that will enable us to avert many of the climatic impacts projected in this chapter. The world will confront elements of this climate change scenario even if, for instance, the United States were to enter into an international carbon cap and trade system in the near future. The scientific community, meanwhile, remains far from a technological breakthrough that would lead to a decisive, near-term reduction in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) A1B greenhouse gas emission scenario assumes that climate change will not trigger any significant positive feedback loops (for example, the release of carbon dioxide and methane from thawing permafrost). Such feedback loops would multiply and magnify the impacts of climate change, creating an even more hostile environment than the one projected here.
Thus, it is not alarmist to say that this scenario may be the best we can hope for. It is certainly the least we ought to prepare for. To do so, we must recognize that the foreign policy and national security implications of climate change are as much determined by local political, social, and economic factors as by the magnitude of the climatic shift itself. As a rule, wealthier countries, and wealthier individuals, will be better able to adapt to the impacts of climate change, while the disadvantaged will suffer the most. An increase in rainfall, for instance, can be a blessing for a country that has the ability to capture, store, and distribute the additional water; however, it is a deadly source of soil erosion for a country that does not have adequate land management practices or infrastructure.2
Consequently, even though the IPCC projects that the temperature increases at higher latitudes will be approximately twice the global average, it will be the developing nations in the Earth's low latitudinal bands that will be most adversely affected by climate change. In the developing world, even a relatively small climatic shift can trigger or exacerbate food shortages, water scarcity, destructive weather events, the spread of disease, human migration, and natural resource competition. These crises are all the more dangerous because they are interwoven and self-perpetuating: water shortages can lead to food shortages, which can lead to conflict over remaining resources, which can drive human migration, which, in turn, can create new food shortages in new regions.
Once under way, this chain reaction becomes increasingly difficult to stop, and therefore it is critical that policymakers do all they can to prevent that first climate change domino—whether it be food scarcity or the outbreak of disease—from toppling. In this scenario, we identify each of the most threatening first dominos, where they are situated, and their cascading geopolitical implications.
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