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By Andrew Holland on May 9, 2012 with 9 responses

National Security Implications of Climate Change Requires Serious Study

Earlier this week, the Washington Times wrote a particularly angry and irrational editorial arguing against the military planning for climate change. The proximate reason for their editorial was Secretary Panetta’s speech on May 2 at the Environmental Defense Fund in which he said “Climate Change has a Dramatic Impact on Our National Security.” ASP blogged about the speech last week.

Normally, I would not take the time to respond to the Washington Times editorial, as they are notorious for being at the far edge of the spectrum on this issue, and far away from any scientific mainstream, but some of the assertions are so scurrilous that they require a response. They simply cannot stand without being challenged.

They write that the national-security threat of climate change “is a fight America can’t afford.” However, as I have discussed before, a changing climate does pose real threats to America’s national security. Rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, increasingly dangerous weather disasters, and melting polar ice caps could destabilize countries, and the U.S. military must be prepared to react to the conflicts that could result from these changes. There is a robust academic argument about the precise linkages between climate and conflict, but that is not where this editorial goes.

Instead, there are some serious assertions in the editorial that must be responded to because they are so far from reality. I will precisely go through them.

First, on polar ice caps, they state:

Not surprisingly, the polar ice caps have not melted in expected fashion. For example, Arctic sea ice in April averaged 5.69 million square miles, “the highest average ice extent for the month since 2001,” according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

They are right: the polar ice caps have not melted in “expected fashion” – they’ve melted much faster. To simply cherry-pick one data point — April’s ice extent — is unscrupulous at best. They could have just as truthfully have stated that Arctic sea ice in September averaged “The second lowest ice extent for the month on record.” The truth is that, although we see one month that has above-average levels of sea ice, the overall trend is down, and the recent trend — within the last 5 years — is way down. See more here at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Second, on the IPCC’s report on severe weather, they claim that the IPCC “published a special report backing away from its claim that severe weather events resulting from either human activity or natural occurrences are trending upward.” The IPCC did recently publish a “Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.” If you read their summary for policymakers, they do state that it is the increasing exposure of people and infrastructure to damage that have caused the recent increase in damage from extreme weather — not climate change. Although they state that “A role for climate change has not been excluded.” However, on balance, the IPCC’s report specifically states that climate change “has led to heat waves, record high temperatures, and heavy precipitation. It is simply astonishing to me that they repeatedly cite reports and research organizations whose other work directly contradicts what they are trying to say.

Finally, they argue that solar micro-grids and algae fuel are “unaffordable energy boondoggles” while ignoring the fact that the military’s current energy usage puts American lives at risk in Afghanistan. The military knows that solar power at forward operating bases reduces the need for vulnerable diesel fuel convoys and we know that alternative fuels like algae-based biofuel hold the promise of reducing our strategic dependence on oil from our adversaries across the Middle East. These are not being done “to combat carbon dioxide – the harmless gas essential for all life on this planet” – but are instead being done strictly to ensure that the U.S. military is better able to fight and win our nation’s wars.

I do understand those who are skeptical of the science on climate change; it is important to always rigorously question science, especially when so much government policy is based on that science. However, can’t we agree that the content of this editorial are so far out of bounds? That this actually was written by a widely-read newspaper editorial board, and not in some blog is what worries me. In addition, the fact that they are opposing the study in the Department of Defense of how climate change could affect security — not the policy to fight it — is doubly crazy. Is this article simply too much?

  1. By notKit P on May 9, 2012 at 9:45 am

    “I do understand those who are skeptical of the science on climate change; ”

     

    Could it be that some of us skeptics have taken more science classes and have more experience in such matters than either Andrew or Mr. Panetta.

     

    Many years ago I was navy officers and since then I have own a sail boat. Understanding the science of tides, currents, wind patterns, and storms are vitally important. So we already spend lots of time studying how the natural world changes and how it would affect us.

     

    I am I worried about small changes in sea levels that can not be measured in the natural variability of the world? No!

     

    AGW is just a theory, a very weak one at that. I am not against science, I am skeptical of catastrophic claims that are not supported by scientific methodology.

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    • By Andrew Holland on May 9, 2012 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for reading, NotKit – while you may have taken more science classes than I have – I think you’re missing the point of my article here. Its not that being climate science is either right or wrong (of course I have my point of view) – but that the Washington Times’ arguments are so unbalanced that that should be out of bounds. 

      Surely you wouldn’t argue -like the Wash Times editorial does – that Arctic Sea ice volume is going up, using one data point, when literally every single other data point shows it on a strong downward trend? 

      If they’re going to have the argument – at least they should be held to the same standard that skeptics hold mainstream climate scientists to.

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      • By Andrew Holland on May 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

        (sorry) – “they should be out of bounds”

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      • By notKit P on May 9, 2012 at 8:12 pm

        Andrew since you suggested that I did not do a good job of reading I went back a reread what you wrote, what Panetta said, and the editorial.

         

        What Panetta said was ridicules. The editorial board correctly slammed Panetta for not doing his job. That is the press doing their job. In this to a much higher standard than I am used to seeing from media.

         

        Just for the record, the standards for those of us who have served or are serving our country are much higher than for the media. There are significant criminal penalties to not telling truth. A while back I attended a public information meeting moderated by government regulators who were doing their best to be objective. However, it was getting personal. The press was bound and determined to get the government guy to loose it which would have made a more interesting story. When the man’s honesty was again questioned, he pulled out a piece of paper and read the other that he took when he joined the navy and accepted his government position. The was greeted with a standing ovations. The purpose of the meeting was provide the public with information not a venue for a press witch hunt.

         

        I do not think Panetta is being dishonest just ridiculous. I know from my navy experience that the military has significant environmental challenges along with defense responsibilities. When it comes to reducing fuel use, the navy had nine nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers to escort nuke carriers. All these ships are gone because the cost of oil was low when the mid-life refueling was required.

         

        One of things I about policy guys. They are more interested in what is shiny than what the science says works. Sexy trumps practical every time. Panetta is just a party jet liberal. Personal life style is a very good indicator of commitment.

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  2. By Chester on May 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    and we know that alternative fuels like algae-based biofuel hold the promise of reducing our strategic dependence on oil from our adversaries across the Middle East.

    Which algae technology holds the promise of replacing oil at a reasonable price?

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    • By Andrew Holland on May 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      I’m a policy guy, not a science guy, so I’ll direct you over to Robert Rapier’s excellent new post on current and projected costs for Algae and biofuels.

      But – I will tell you what the U.S. Navy has told me – they expect next-generation biofuels, of some sort, to be cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels before the end of this decade. Further, they say that it makes more sense to invest in a product for which the cost curve is heading down rather than one that is moving up (oil).

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      • By Chester on May 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm

        Thank you, I will take a look.

        But – I will tell you what the U.S. Navy has told me – they expect next-generation biofuels, of some sort, to be cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels before the end of this decade. Further, they say that it makes more sense to invest in a product for which the cost curve is heading down rather than one that is moving up (oil).

        Interesting. But at what scale?

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        • By Andrew Holland on May 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm

          Significant. The Navy has put in place a requirement to achieve 50% of its liquid fuel from non-petroleum sources by 2020. A big deal.

          They bought 450,000 gallons of biofuels for a test-run expected to take place off Hawaii this summer. It cost 4x the price of JP-5, but they expect it to come down as the industry scales up. 

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  3. By Robert P. Fields on May 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    I have spent the last 20 years of my life, 5 of them in college, studying science. I am one of those people who sees black and says “I see black”! If it walks like a duck……

    I truly believe the “deniers” are mostly the Sarah Palin type- “Why are we wasting money on fruit fly research” , brilliant, huh?

    93% of scientists agree (see the link below and do your own research if you’re not to scared) that we are changing our planet by adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in massive amounts to the atmosphere. Most of the climate skeptics don’t know their H2O from their elbow, I believe they are simply upset that women have rights, e.g., abortion, etc.  It is a political thing. The oil and coal industries have done such a good job at controlling the message, i.e., Corporate media- Murdoch and company, and let us not forget the Koch brothers) it will be too late when the shit hits the fan.  That’s OK though, at least they will be able to purchase golden coffins

    I actually have a sister who will argue with you ’till you are blue in the face that the earth is 6000 years old. How can you really hope to educate these people when they have no concept of OBJECTIVITY and  CRITICAL thinking, and I think they are just too damn lazy or biased to find out the truth.

    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2010/06/scientists-overwhelmingly-believe-in-man-made-climate-change/1#.T67XF-hYshw

    My take on the matter is if you can not define the scientific meaning of  ”e” you really don’t have a dog in the fight, but then again if you are hired by  the  tobacco lobby you’ll say anything for a couple of million dollars.

    I will not get into an argument when it comes to law because I am relatively ignorant of jurisprudence. So, for all you armchair scientists out there, leave science (you know the stuff that men and women have devoted their life to, knowing they will never get rich, and solving  problems like disease, atomic fission and fusion, etc) to the scientist!

    In other words, if your are an ignoramus right wing-nut, butt out, wise up, or start looking for another planet to destroy.

     

    Sincerely and very well versed in climate science,

    Robert P. Fields

     

     

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