Climate Change and Implications for National Security By Thomas Omogi
Substantial evidence indicates that the 21st century will experience significant changes in climate, either warming or cooling. Despite the debates and because the changes have thus been gradual, the effects of climate change will likely be manageable for most countries. However, recent research suggests the gradual global warming has the potential to cause an abrupt slowing of the ocean’s thermohaline circulation resulting in reduced soil moisture, harsher winter weather, and more intense winds in areas that produce a significant percentage of the world’s food. Without adequate preparation, the result may be substantial loss in the human carrying capacity globally. This research proposes that when temperatures rise over a particular threshold, unfavorable weather conditions could occur relatively abruptly with unrelenting changes in atmospheric circulation instigating drops in average temperatures of 5 -10 degrees Fahrenheit within one decade. Paleo-climatic evidence points to altered climate patterns that spanned an entire century, such as they did when the thermohaline circulation abruptly collapsed over 8,000 years ago. An abrupt change in climate has the potential to destabilize the global political environment, leading the minor skirmishes, individual battles or all out war resulting from constraints like: Food shortages from decreased agricultural output Diminished availability and access to potable fresh water caused by changing precipitation patterns leading to droughts and floods Disruption in energy resources due to expanded sea ice and increased storms As carrying capacities decrease, political tensions could increase globally, which would like lead to two primary strategies: offensive and defensive. Countries with adequate resources would develop fortress mentalities to protect those supplies. Countries with inadequate supplies, especially those with long histories of enmity amongst neighboring nations, may instigate struggles for access to clean water, food or energy. Alliances might form around basic survival needs rather than ideologies, religions or national honor. Some current indications suggest that climate change has reached, or is close to reaching, that threshold over which the thermohaline conveyor may be impacted. These include documentation that melting glaciers may result in lower oceanic salinity levels and higher precipitation rates in some areas. This risk for a major abrupt change in global climate patterns, while relatively small and unclear, should be included in discussions regarding national security. Disruptions and violence resulting from the stresses produced by a diminished carrying capacity pose atypical threats, and military confrontation could be triggered by primal needs for resources such as food, water and energy. The change in motivation would change the geopolitical landscape, and previously stable countries may become vulnerable and unable to respond to early warning signs of national security threats. A long standing debate about how extensive these environmental disruptions would need to be in order to lead to conflicts. Some believe that the changes alone could lead to conflict, others argue that climate change could act as the trigger of clashes between nations with existing economic, social and political tensions. Regardless, severe environmental changes due to global warming seem like to intensify the degree of global discord. In the event of a significant and abrupt change in climate patterns, it is probable that energy, water and food resource constraints will be managed via economic, diplomatic and political pathways such as trade embargoes and treaties. Over time however, clashes of water and land use are likely to grow in severity and violence, as nations become increasingly distressed. Australia and the United States will most likely adopt the defensive, fortress mentality due to their self-sufficiency and abundant resources. With its wealth, diverse agricultural regions, technology and other resources, the United States is equipped to survive shorter growing seasons and harsher weather conditions without catastrophic consequences. Borders would likely be strengthened to stem the flood of starving immigrants from Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and South America. Energy supplies would be complemented with alternates such as renewable and nuclear energy and perhaps additional contracts with Middle Eastern petroleum producers. Skirmishes over agricultural support, fishing rights, water rights, and disaster relief may become common, while tensions between Mexico and the United States would increase if the U.S. reconsiders its adoption of the 1944 treaty addressing water flow from the Colorado River. Relief workers would need to respond to flooding in the south east states and drought relief in the drier inland regions. However, even in a long-standing state of emergency, the United States would be well positioned versus other countries. The obdurate problem facing the U.S. might be responding to increasing military tensions in other regions of the world. As weather-related disasters, famine and disease grow due to climate change, other nations may exceed their carrying capacity, resulting in desperation and an offensive approach to obtain additional supplies. For example, eastern European countries may look to Russia if their own supplies of food, water and energy fall drastically. Or perhaps Japan, experiencing flooding along coastal regions and contamination of its potable water supply, may look to Sakhalin Island (Russia) for its gas and oil reserves to operate desalinization plants. China, India and Pakistan, nuclear powers, might clash with neighbors as refugees arrive at borders and to gain access to rivers and arable acreage. Portuguese and Spanish fishermen might clash over rights leading to conflicts on the ocean. With more than 200 river basins situated along multiple countries, disagreements over access to clean water for drinking, transportation and irrigation would escalate. For example, the Nile flows through nine nations, the Danube runs through twelve countries, and the Amazon flows through seven separate nations. Some recommendations to prepare for threats to national security due to climate change include: Implement improvements to predictive climate models. In the era of big data and predictive analytics weather models can produce better results by including current, historical and predictive forces, improve understanding of global warming, and more accurately predict abrupt changes. Integrate data to create more comprehensive predictive models of global warming effects, including the potential economic, ecological, political and social impact resulting from abrupt change. Sophisticated scenarios and models should be created to anticipate regional weather conditions, and a system should be developed to identify the impact of global warming on world-wide distribution of economic, social and political powers. The predictive quality of the analytics can be utilized to minimize potential sources of conflict. Utilize vulnerability metrics to measure a nation’s potential vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Metrics should address impact on existing water, agricultural and mineral resources, social cohesion, technological capabilities and adaptability. Develop and train for adaptive responses. Response teams should be created to plan and prepare for climate driven change such as epidemics, massive migrations and shortages in water and food supplies. Explore regional and local implications of global warming, such as potential increases in pest and insect prevalence and the severity of alterations in agricultural productivity as a result. Analysis should be done to identify which regions and crops are vulnerable and the potential acuteness of the impacts. Identify options for geo-engineering for some control over climate. Suggestions have arisen that warming the atmosphere through the release of gases, including hydrofluorocarbons, might offset the effects of atmospheric cooling. Conclusion It may be distinctly possible to identify imminent abrupt changes in climate soon, and those predictions will increase in reliability and clarity. In addition, sophisticated models will enhance to potential to predict climate change consequences. Nations should prepare to take urgent action to mitigate the most severe impacts. Diplomatic efforts may minimize the potential for conflict, although large population migrations are most likely inevitable. Preparing adaptive responses will better manage those migrations and lessen border tensions. New security agreements addressing specific needs for food, water and energy are advisable, as conflict and disruption will be endemic characteristics of life in a global environment affected by intense climate changes.
Submitted by Thomas Omogi