The Military-Industrial-Environmental Complex

The Military-Industrial-Environmental Complex

September 25, 2009
Originally published in The Washington Examiner

President Obama, speaking to the United Nations this week, cast climate change unequivocally as a threat to national security. He told the General Assembly, "Our efforts to end conflicts will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources. Development will be devastated by drought and famine." The President echoed the sentiments of hawkish-sounding lobby groups, such as the Partnership for a Secure America and the American Security Project, that are promoting cap-and-trade “energy legislation” as vital for national security. Catastrophic climate change, they claim, could become a “threat multiplier” as droughts, pestilences, floods, and famines purportedly caused by global warming spark and exacerbate conflicts overseas.

Behind this movement is an unlikely alliance of national security hawks hoping to boost their budget while reducing American dependence on foreign oil and greens looking to enhance their credibility with centrists and conservatives.

The Pentagon’s tendency toward mission creep could make this a formidable coalition. The Department of Defense now has a financial incentive to incorporate climate change into its risk assessments, in order to secure increasing appropriations from a Democratic Congress and administration committed to fighting global warming. It is all part of the dynamic which the great British Prime Minister the Marquess of Salisbury summed up so well: "If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the military, nothing is safe."

The “national security” imperative for this policy rests on flawed or non-existing scientific evidence, and prescribes a cure that would be worse than the disease.

First, the scientific basis for climate panic has been thrown in doubt by the persistence of the cooling trend that began in 1998, and by new studies which demonstrate that negative feedback cycles are much stronger than originally believed. A new observational study by prominent MIT scientists has found that negative feedbacks dominate the tropical atmosphere’s response to increases in sea-surface temperature, and concludes that a doubling of greenhouse gases over pre-industrial levels will produce a mere 0.5°C of warming.

But even if one assumes that the cooling trend is temporary and that anthropogenic global warming is happening (as many climatologists do), there is no factual basis for any of the apocalyptic scenarios widely presented in the media and in various documentaries. For instance, there is no evidence that rapidly rising sea levels will displace populations, lead to pandemic outbreaks, or spark “water wars” and famines due to water shortages.

Quite the opposite, in fact: British science journalist Wendy Barnaby was asked to write a book about coming water wars and found no evidence that such wars happen. She notes that warnings about water wars come from the media and "popular" science that is not subject to peer review. She concluded that the myth of water wars needs to be dispelled to "discourage a certain public resignation that climate change will bring war, and focus attention instead on what politicians can do to avoid it: most importantly, improve the conditions of trade for developing countries to strengthen their economies." If only the President had read her work.

Moreover, the goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil by adopting “green energy” is an illusion. Currently, 75 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. The technology required to replace a substantial percentage of that figure with renewables simply isn't there, especially if you exclude nuclear power, as many environmentalists do.

Therefore, the only way to effectively curb emissions is to impose regulations that drive up the cost of energy so much as to make renewable energy sources financially viable—however artificially. Skyrocketing energy would reduce the competitiveness of our workforce and fuel inflation—hardly the tonic our challenged economy needs.

The Chinese and Indian governments are committed to improving their peoples’ standards of living by continuing to use affordable fossil fuels, U.S. action to reduce emissions would likely be accompanied by strong protectionist measures. This would most surely precipitate a trade war, which is often a precursor to wider conflict. Military power and economic power go hand in hand, so an economically enfeebled America would be less able to fight effectively as future wars arise.

Ultimately, we have less to fear from global warming than we do from global warming policies when it comes to national security. In using this argument before the United Nations, the President has done the nation’s security a disservice.