Global-Warming Policies Are the Real National-Security Threat

Global-Warming Policies Are the Real National-Security Threat

August 11, 2009
Originally published in The National Review

Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) is trying to win Senate support for the ruinously expensive cap-and-tax global-warming bill, claiming it will prevent threats to national security, according to the New York Times. He argues that global warming will destabilize the developing world, creating climate refugees and exacerbating conflict. The American military will need to respond to these problems through either humanitarian-relief missions or armed intervention. This argument is flawed for two reasons. First, there is no reason to believe the bill being debated will stop any of this. Second, there is every possibility that the bill might make things worse.

If global warming is as bad as Senator Kerry fears, this bill will do nothing to avert its effects. Most honest proponents of the bill admit that it will do nothing to reduce global temperatures. At most, according to climatologist Chip Knappenberger, the bill will reduce warming by about nine-hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit by 2050, a difference too small to be measured.

Could anything avert those supposed effects? Yes — much more stringent climate policies, which would have adverse effects of their own. The national-security establishment uses “futurist” scenarios to establish possible national-security risks. In that spirit, it should also look at scenarios in which more stringent policies are implemented. Consider the following such scenario.

Developed countries enact strong restraints on emissions, along with high taxes on gasoline and coal energy. The coal, oil and automobile industries collapse. In America, the Gulf Coast states suffer particularly badly. Old automobiles are crushed. The second-hand car market also collapses. Poor people cannot find affordable vehicles. Poor rural families cannot get to work. They and the populations of former oil and coal producing areas move to cities where there is transportation but there are fewer and fewer jobs, leading to widespread urban discontent. Illegal immigration increases as employers bring in thousands of workers whom they house in barracks near their farms and factories. The car once again becomes a symbol of the rich. Is this a recipe for domestic tranquility?

Europe could also be destabilized by carbon restrictions. European politicians call for a de facto reduction of household income so that people will be less tempted to buy frivolous things. Car ownership reaches the level of social stigma. The European Union increases trade barriers on goods from long distances to pay for the external costs of their shipping, with leads to soaring costs. Inflation becomes a serious problem, but politicians defend it as an indicator of social good. Populist politicians rail against immigrant populations, denouncing them as environmental criminals for leaving their home countries. “Economic migrant” becomes a new insult.

Yet, even worse can be imagined. The developed countries set up a World Carbon Organization, which would impose severe economic sanctions on any country that did not enact carbon restrictions. China and India call the organization’s bluff and continue to build coal-fired carbon plants to fuel what is rapidly becoming the world’s economic base. The WCO tries to blockade Chinese exports. Western militaries, however, have been depleted by their own governments’ carbon constraints, and prove inadequate to the job of blockading. A potential “trigger” for a disaster scenario is easy to imagine: A frustrated French captain accidentally sinks a Chinese vessel carrying MP3 players to Australia. What happens then?

This is the sort of scenario the Pentagon should be examining. If global warming can destabilize the globe, so can global-warming policies. That is one reason the world has not reached an international agreement on reducing emissions that binds everyone to reductions, and why we never shall with current technology.

Senator Kerry says that he wants a world free from the dangers of global warming. But the cap-and-tax bill he is promoting is more likely to give us a world with the dangers of global warming and the dangers of protectionist nationalism. That is a bad deal for the security of America — and the world.

P.S. My colleague Marlo Lewis examined the various supposed threats to national security in very great detail for the a hearing held by House Intelligence Committee. You can read his excellent testimony here. You can also see his documentary, Policy Peril, at CEI On Demand.