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Climate change reduced to a 'security' issue

Whilst publicly claiming climate change is no block to business as usual, and even a potential source of green profits, the world's ruling élites are planning for its impact on "security" (as they call their uninterrupted rule).

In the United States, in particular, the national security establishment is planning for a future of rising sea levels and battles over resources. While taking action on global warming is off the agenda, “security” certainly isn’t.

As part of this, the US navy is organising a major joint exercise this May along with forces from India and China and 22 other countries. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III revealed details to the Boston Globe. He said that significant upheaval related to the warming planet is the most likely event "that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about". He added:

You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.

His 40,000 strong Hawaii-based HQ, responsible for operations throughout the Pacific and up to the Indian Ocean, is "working with Asian nations to stockpile supplies in strategic locations and planning a major exercise for May with nearly two dozen countries to practice the 'what-ifs'."

The US is talking to Asian governments about "the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations".

Retired Rear Admiral David Titley was chief operating officer of NOAA, the US Navy's climate lab, and director of the US Navy’s Task Force Climate Change. He offers an insight into how the military views the changes that are on the horizon:

When I was in the navy, we tried to strip away the emotions associated with climate change as a political issue. It’s a change, and just like changing demographics, political regimes and economic conditions, we need to deal with it. If we don’t, we’re putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage — and the United States military never wants to be at a competitive disadvantage.

The Department of Defence plans for everything, and particularly for potential changes in ‘the battlespace’,  the geography in which we operate. With global sea levels projected to rise anywhere from 20 centimetres (8 inches) to 2 metres (6.6 feet) this century as a consequence of climate change, that’s a change we have to account for and plan for.

So what frightens the United States and other countries? According to Admiral Locklear, it is the displacement of millions of people by climatic events. After that, security “will start to crumble pretty quickly”. In other words, lots of angry people will start taking action themselves and established order will come under threat.

With climate change talks stalled for the indefinite future, a meeting of the UN Security Council in February focused on the global disruption global warming will cause. They heard from Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, who warned that when sea levels rise, space for human settlements will shrink and also supplies of clean water and food.

Battles over what is left would be "the logical result". He added: "Whoever wants to ignore the problem has to start right now building a high fence around their country. They can forget trade."  

There has to be an alternative to treating climate change as a trade and security problem. Going down that route is to accept that some people will survive and others won’t while the corporations cash in. Co-operating across all borders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to begin to restore health to the eco-system is an option that puts people ahead of security and profits .

Penny Cole
Environment editor
14 March 2013

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