Hated the Carbon Tax? Overjoyed that Flannery idiot has been given the boot? Tired of hearing urban hipsters blaming you for melting the polar icecaps? Maybe you proudly deny global warming, or climate change, or whatever they are calling it this week.
Well, I have a new phrase for you: Threat Multiplier.
The same way that a force multiplier like GPS can allow a military unit to have a larger impact, to punch above its weight, a threat multiplier increases and enhances threats.
In the last five years military white papers from Russia, China, USA, and NATO have all named climate change as either a national security threat or as a major consideration for future strategic deployment. Is this our worst fears come true? Mean greenies with guns?
Pragmatism is a military commanders calling, and for them it boils down to a couple of things: availability and vulnerability of resources, and hazards to operational personnel. No general wants to lose troops for no good reason.
Both Napoleon and Hitler were defeated in Russia principally by the weather that first bogged them down in mud, and then froze them to death. Climate and logistics had a similar impact on American forces in Afghanistan. Front line troops needed fuel for generators and water. The US Marines lost 10% of their troops on the convoys delivering supplies, and the US Army calculated it was losing 1 soldier for every 24 fuel convoys. Massive changes have followed as a result, including huge surge in uptake of solar and recycled water technology. With conflicts heating up across the globe, and extreme weather events on the rise, military forces are listening to the science and responding to the changing climate conditions.
Climate science opposition usually takes the form of demands for certainty. Absolute Certainty is not a luxury enjoyed by science; which is why we still have a theory of gravity.
Climate change is not a smoking gun. It amplifies existing tensions to trigger conflict; and a recent trigger can be found with the 2011 civil insurrection in Egypt. Like many uprisings before it, notably in 1977 and 2008, the Egyptian ‘spring’ was in large part due to poverty, discontent, and bread.
In lands of plenty like Australia it can be hard to understand why bread is important, particularly to the gluten-intolerant. However in many poor countries bread is a primary food source.
In 2010 China’s wheat harvest failed, within six months wheat doubled from $157/ton to $326/ton. This made bread almost unaffordable. In Australian terms your $250 grocery bill is now $500. Reason enough to take to the streets.
Rising seas levels cause a lot of fuss, but Bondi Beach is not concerned. While having the beach a bit closer is probably not something our Pacific island neighbours are that keen on, losing a few meters to the ocean won’t change our borders… will it?
68% of the developing world’s population is on our doorstep in the Asia-Pacific region. More than 60% of these rely on agriculture for their economy. Countries like India, Bangladesh and China are already feeling the impact of rising seas levels through increased salinity in water aquifers, heavy erosion, erratic and sometimes devastating weather events.
The net result is Forced Migration, which according to the Red Cross saw over 70 million people permanently displaced in 2012. Our Pacific cousins aside, most of these refugees are currently being shuffled around in the northern hemisphere; but as the capacity for Europe, Russia and Asia to absorb them weakens, the overflow will spill over the equator to our door.
No one likes being sick, but another threat amplified by turning up the heat just a little is disease. This has prompted ongoing studies by the American Centre for Disease Control into the effects of changing climate on human health. In Africa increases in temperature have allowed Malaria to return to areas where it had not been documented for 50 years. The same increases in temperature and humidity have brought Dengue fever to Florida and allowed the West Nile virus to spread further south in Australia.
Plants are also suffering as a result of warmer weather, with pests and diseases increasing in range. 2010 saw the decimation of the wheat crop in Africa by Wheat rust, an infectious disease that is now spreading into food bowls in Asia. This spread of plant pathogens are of great concern in the scientific and agribusiness communities, and as seen in the example of Egypt the consequences can be far reaching. Not going to Africa? Ask an Irishman about the Potato Famine to get an idea of upheaval and death resulting from plant disease.
OK so diseases are icky, but we have drugs and pesticides for that, and we’ve already established you don’t eat wheat. So how do melting ice-caps impact resource & food security? We don’t eat seals or penguins, and Orcas can always find something else to eat… like sea otters.
Food, Water, Energy and who controls the land that produces them are at the core of resources security. Developing economies such as India and China are burning increasing amounts of gas and oil for power and transport. Growing populations demand more food, more water, and more energy. Even without climate impacts, there is already increasing friction over control of the fields that produce these resources.
With Australian farming land selling fast, ownership is also a serious issue. Future access to resources and food production are seen as such a good investment that there are even consulting companies specialising in selling Australia. What happens when foreign ownership trumps local demand, amplifying prices or even drying up supply?
Given that the Abbott government is likely to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which will allow foreign multinationals to sue farmers for preventing CSG fracking projects, or sue governments for passing legislation, as seen in Quebec, this is not a frivolous question.
Maybe you’re not convinced by any of this. You’re a market libertarian, “let the market decide” you say. Consider then that Monsanto just purchased a climate science company for US$930 million. Or the American defence contractor that is redeveloping its business to take advantage of opportunities presented by climate change. With the Pentagon and university studies pointing to increased conflict over resources and amplified civil unrest, it certainly makes business sense to provide the products that military and police forces are going to need.
Meanwhile consortiums are buying up water rights, the WWF is pitching ‘Driving Profits through Carbon Reduction’, Americans are investing in solar power for the US military and Wall Street is going to be protected by $20 million dollars worth of flood banks & levies while it speculates on the mineral wealth being revealed by the melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica.
Changing climate multiplies existing threats, and actually increases uncertainty about the future. The military appreciates uncertainty and the potential loss of life it presents. So if Generals and Admirals are doing something about climate change to protect their troops, shouldn’t our government do something about it to protect us?
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