Climate Security: Who’s At Risk?


Worldwatch researcher Michael Renner’s chapter in the 2005 edition of State of the World is probably the best summary of the intersection between environment and security out there. He also co-authored a great chapter on disaster management as a peacebuilding opportunity with my good friend Zoe Chafe in last year’s State of the World. I don’t know him, but Zoe gave a great window into their thinking process and I’ve gained a great deal of respect for his opinion on these matters.
So last week, when Renner wrote a cautionary note about the recent attention being paid to the security dimension of climate change, I read with interest.
I was excited when I learned that the Security Council took up climate change last month at the U.K.’s insistence.
Sens. Durbin and Hagel are calling for greater attention to the national security risks of climate change, and Senator Biden is holding a hearing on the subject this Wednesday. This is all good news.
Still, the crux of Renner’s response, as I read it, is critically important and must be heeded:

Many nations worry that the Security Council – a club dominated by five unelected (“permanent”) members – will set the terms of the debate.
A key question is how governments will address climate insecurity. Will prevention, in the form of radically different energy policies or other such responses, be key? Or might powerful governments one day be tempted to use the specter of environmental threats as an excuse for intervention – say, coercing others to mothball polluting industries or to stop cutting down forests in the name of climate stabilization?

Yet when the worst crises come, rich nations may respond not with offers of support, but by turning their backs on populations hit hard by climate change. Rather than helping the displaced, they may shut their borders in the face of an “onslaught” of migrants and refugees from countries collapsing due to environmental calamity.

We should read Renner’s comment in the spirit in which it is offered.
I don’t think Renner is suggesting that climate change not be addressed as a security problem, for it surely is one. And the new attention being paid to climate security is important and needed.
But, as Renner points out, there are pitfalls. Should this flurry of interest produce mostly unilateral climate security policies, the world’s poor – who are already suffering from the effects of climate change – will be hit even harder.
–Scott Paul


5 comments on “Climate Security: Who’s At Risk?

  1. Pissed Off American says:

    Ah yes, global warming.
    Enjoy the debate while it lasts, for the politician’s concern will dissipate in the wind just as soon as the last ’08 ballot is tallied.
    Someone better get off their ass though, and raise the alarm about the bees. Their demise is not near as futuristic a problem, and the effects will be catacalysmic.
    Of course, to figure it out, we might have to rely on science. And thats a no-no in Bushworld.


  2. David N says:

    The are about two dozen countries who, if the Greenland Ice Shelf melts completely and the sea level then rises about two feet, will completely disappear. That strikes me as something they will consider a security threat.
    Among the other threats from climate change are:
    1. Lower temperatures and even an ice age in the northeast North America and Europe, because melted fresh water from the North polar ice cap will cut off the North Atlantic Thermal Transfer.
    2. Massive species loss due to droughts, low tempratures, high temperatures, and other changes too fast for natural adjustments and migrations.
    3. Droughts in Africa, China, Central Asia, South Asia, and the Brazilian Rain Forest. If the tropical rain forests continue to get cut down at current rates, there literally will not be enough oxygen in the Earth’s air for us to breathe.
    4. If the thermofrost in the Siberian Tundra melts, it could release billions of tons of methane now locked into that frozen soil. This will double or triple the excess amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and could threaten the South Polar ice cap with melting. If that happens, even worst case scenarios are out the window.
    It is all, of course, if. It’s possibilities and probabilities. That, friends, is because it’s science. Certainties are for fools like Bush; the real world is all about uncertainty, and because of Bush’s father, we have wasted twenty years without dealing with the problem.
    And counting.


  3. Robert Morrow says:

    I am not an expert on the climate, but it does look like we won’t have to nuke France anymore, so maybe that should help out the environment.
    also, did I mention RON PAUL for 2008!


  4. john somer says:

    Some poor low-lying countries, like Bangladesh, might profitably inspire themselves from Holland in the Middle Ages, that started building dykes with much more primitive technologies than those available today in the poorest countries. As the Dutch saying goes “God created the earth but the Dutch created Holland”


  5. jojo says:

    The poor need a break–like warmer weather fools !–Home-heating just keeps rising–and you can’t chop park’s wood.


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *