Security risk, as conventionally understood, encompasses threats posed by people. It used to be that nations perceived security threats from other nations. This has evolved, especially in the previous two decades, to include non-state actors -- Internet inspired individuals, organized terror groups, etc. The phenomenon of climate change has rarely made it into this company.
However, a group of seasoned military leaders, sixteen retired generals and admirals, begs to differ.
The New York Times published a story that was quickly buried by the other big news of the day -- the Gaza conflict, and the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner. The article was about a report published by the CNA Military Advisory Board, assessing links between climate change and global (and national) security.
The report covered a range of impacts, from the rising sea-level potentially making Norfolk, Va. (currently the largest naval base in the world) unfit for naval service; to increased conflicts over water destabilizing large parts of the world; to low-lying, but heavily populated, places like the Mekong River delta generating surges in climate refugees to the Sahara, with the refugees taking over arable land in Mali, and generating hunger and deprivation; to the overall benefit of a Jihadi agenda.
The climate skeptics struck back quickly.
The US House of Representatives, voting along party lines, passed a specific amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to deny the Pentagon any further funds for climate risk assessment. The amendment said:
None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation's Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.
Killing the messenger in order to make the message more palatable is clearly not restricted to the pages of history; the practice continues to flourish in the good hands of the US Congress. Senator James Inhofe, ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a committed climate skeptic of the most ideological kind, scoffed at the notion of climate change being a significant security risk.
Rear Admiral David Titley, a meteorologist retired from the US Navy, and one of the co-authors of the report, bravely responded to the political opposition by saying, "The ice doesn't care about politics or who's caucusing with whom, or Democrats or Republicans."
The inexorable rise of sea waters has been affecting global security in unexpectedly peace-making ways, too, although the logical conclusion of that trend is the drowning of everyone and everything.
New Moore Island, a tiny rock island in the Sunderbans -- the swampy estuary of the Ganges that falls in both India and Bangladesh -- had been disputed for the past thirty years (almost the entire existence of Bangladesh as a nation) between the two neighboring countries. This two mile long, and one and half mile wide, island even had soldiers mounting expeditions to raise their respective nation's flag. But by 2000 meteorologists started to get undeniable evidence that the rising waters were submerging New Moore.
Finally in 2010, based on satellite imagery and other meteorological data, scientists in India's Jadavpur University concluded that climate change had done what decades of political dialog could not achieve. A land dispute had been resolved because there remained no more land to dispute over.
--Projjal K. Dutta, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Director of Sustainability Initiatives. (The views reflected in this blog are his personal views and do not reflect those of the MTA.) Find him on Twitter @projjal.