Greening of the Pentagon?

Eleven former generals have just published a report warning that global warming poses a “serious threat” to U.S. national security” via increased severity and frequency of floods, droughts, hurricanes, and the like, and “acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.” The report calls on Congress and Defense Department to ensure that climate issues are “fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies.”

There are several problems with this report. The generals uncritically accept the alarmist view that global warming will dramatically increase the severity and frequency of droughts, floods, hurricanes, and disease. This is all very dubious. They also seem blithely unaware that investing significant resources in such highly technical yet thoroughly politicized fields as climate forecasting and climate policy could undermine the military’s capacity to fight and win wars, such as the current one in Iraq.

Finally, the generals evince no grasp of the risks that global warming policy poses to national security.

The generals fret that “Projected climate change poses a serious threat to American national security.” They point to the risk of increased hurricanes, floods, and the like. But consider Hurricane Katrina, the worst national disaster in U.S. history. By the time Katrina made landfall, it was a category 3 storm.

One of the reasons Katrina was so deadly was that many New Orleans residents did not own cars and, consequently, were stuck in harm’s way. Carbon taxes or their regulatory equivalent could easily bump up U.S. gasoline prices to European levels — roughly $4.00 to $6.00 a gallon. That would further discourage car ownership among low-income households in New Orleans and other hurricane-vulnerable cities. Even lower rates of car ownership put more people at risk when the next big storm hits. The generals fail to consider that side of the risk ledger.

The generals state that, “Climate change acts as a threat multiplier in some of the most volatile regions of the world.” But the same can be said of carbon-suppression policies. The current 7.5 billion gallon biofuel mandate has already driven up the price of corn, creating a tortilla crisis in Mexico. President Bush has called a 35-billion-gallon mandate to help curb greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, the biofuels craze threatens to drive up all grain prices, putting at risk millions of poor people in Africa who depend on imported grain for the very survival.

Then there’s the question of how the world’s governments could stabilize greenhouse gas levels without restricting poor countries’ access to affordable energy. About 1.6 billion people have never flipped a light switch. About 2.4 billion rely on traditional biomass — wood, crop waste, and dung — to heat their homes and cook their food. Most of the growth in global energy use in the next 25 years is projected to occur in these countries, and most of the additional energy is projected to come from fossil fuels.

Restricting developing country access to modern forms of energy is essential to curb greenhouse gas emissions — but it would directly imperil the lives of millions of people. To borrow the generals’ words, the Kyoto agenda could “seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states.”

The generals also seem unaware that energy rationing schemes like the Kyoto Protocol are fraught with potential for conflict. No treaty is self-executing, especially not one like the Kyoto Protocol that “works” only if nations produce and use less energy than they need. The French, accordingly, have proposed levying carbon “tariffs” against countries that engage in carbon “dumping,” i.e., that do not ratify Kyoto or adopt similar carbon constraints. Can the generals think of another way to enforce such a treaty? The threat or use of military force, perhaps? At a minimum, global energy rationing increases the likelihood of trade wars and conflict over how to divvy up an ever shrinking pie of affordable energy.

Further, the generals have given no thought the national sovereignty implications of the Kyoto agenda. All member governments have an incentive to collude with national firms to under-report emissions and over-report reductions. The U.S. regulatory system is fairly transparent and accountable. The EU system is less so. Russia’s regulatory system has close to zero transparency and accountability. Clearly, international institutions would have to be created to monitor and enforce a global energy rationing regime. But if those institutions are strong enough and intrusive enough to detect and punish cheating in, e.g., Russia, wouldn’t they also pose a threat to U.S. sovereignty?

French President Chirac hailed Kyoto as the first step towards the establishment of “authentic global governance.” A first step, yes. The generals should consider what full-blown global governance would entail, and whether they see no risk to U.S. security in ceding so much power to an unaccountable international bureaucracy.