By Katharine Trendacosta
31 January 2014
(io9) – Plenty of people still doubt that climate change is a real thing, or that it was engineered by humans and accelerating. But national security hawks agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is a real and growing problem. And they've done tons of research predicting the wars and disasters it could cause.
It shouldn't be too surprising that the United States military and intelligence community thinks of climate change as a national security threat. The 2014 Director of National Intelligence's "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community" global threats included "Natural Resources" – divided up into the subcategories of Food, Water, Energy, Extreme Weather Events, and The Arctic. 2013's report was even more concerned openly about climate-based threats, using the term "climate change" more often, and giving the topic its own subheading.
One of the earliest available government reports on climate change as a national security threat is a 2003 report by the Pentagon Office of Net Assessments, which looked at an "abrupt climate change scenario." This, the Pentagon warned, could "de-stabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles, and even war."
The United States Joint Forces Command, which devoted a section to climate change in its 2007 report on trends and challenges they'd be facing through 2030. In this report, one concern was that climate change would exacerbate political instability and "foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies." Specifically, the report mentioned that climate change was a unique problem:
Effects may spread to the U.S. Homeland in the form of refugee flows, internal weather-related disasters, energy crises, and associated terrorist activities. Potential strategic implications may include the potential opening of new sea lanes and access to new resources as a result of the melting Arctic ice cap and tensions regarding availability or reallocation of energy resources. Climate change may also have impacts on areas of military capability ranging from trafficability, to potential inundation of military ports and other bases to sensor performance.
These aren't the only reports mentioning climate change from the early 2000s — what the reports all have in common is the U.S. military accepting that the problem is real, and expressing concerns about its effects.
Around this time, the United States intelligence community also became interested in the national security implications of climate change. This resulted in a 2008 National Intelligence Assessment (NIA) that was described as "the U.S. government's first analysis of the security threats posed by global warming." And this document was classified.
What is available is the statement made by the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, to a joint House committee hearing. If the NIA was as the deputy director described it, it's somewhat strange that the report was classified. In fact, it was intended to be public — but was classified due to the fear that governments flagged in the report would react negatively. This seems like a futile gesture on the part of the government.
First, the deputy director's statement described the possible dangers faced by different regions, including specific countries. Second, the deputy director's statement made clear that they relied heavily on outside open sources and outside expertise. That means that it the information wasn't completely under the control of the government.
One of the groups consulted, Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network actually published the results of what they were asked to do, which was to rank countries by looking at "sea-level rise, increased water scarcity, and an aggregate measure of vulnerability based on projected temperature change, compared with nations' ability to adapt."
Third, the report was followed by six related reports discussing, in depth, the national security implications of climate change in India; China; Russia; North Africa; Mexico, central America, and the Caribbean; and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island States. This pretty clearly announced the countries that had been flagged in the 2008 assessment. And yet, as of 2013, the original 2008 report is still classified. [more]