Why Selena Shilad Has it Exactly Wrong on Climate Change and National Security

Three days ago I added the American Security Project’s blog, The Flash Point, to my blog roll. I had come across the blog when Mark Sanfranski (“Zenpundit”) highlighted the work of Dr. Bernard Finel, one of the blog’s primary authors, in a recent post on his site. I was intrigued by his work, and found Dr. Finel (and the other commentators at Flash Point) to be articulate and thought-provoking skeptics of our current course in Afghanistan.
The relatively high quality of their work earned them a spot on my morning feed. So far they have succeeded in meeting my expectations- with one notable exception. Selena Shilad has written a post for Flash Point that attempts to deconstruct James Carafano’s memo for the Heritage Foundation, “National Security Not a Good Argument for Global Warming Legislation.”
While it is usually not advisable to step between two warring think tanks, there are a few gaping holes in Shilad’s argument that can not be left unaddressed. Thus, I have dissected her post section by and provided a response to her major claims below.

“James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation recently railed against members of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee for highlighting the national security implications of climate change. But don’t just take it from us or the Committee, some of the nation’s top military leaders have highlighted the implications of these changes, many of which have already started to impact our populations. For example, according to the National Intelligence Council – the U.S. intelligence community’s think-tank, “global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years,” and General Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.), recently stated that “even a small change of 2 to 3 degrees in one direction could be the difference between a management problem [and] a catastrophe.”

The opening paragraph of Ms. Shilad’s piece is a text book example of a major logical fallacy – the case she makes is an Argument from Authority, informing us that smart men holding rank agree with her, but never providing a reason as to why this matters. If I were to comment on one of the blog’s posts skeptical of current Af/Pak policy with quotes from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that the war in Afghanistan is essential to protecting the United States from terrorism, I would be an object of ridicule. If there is a reason this rigorous standard should not be applied to security issues related to climate change, Shilad did not provide it.
Moving down through Shilad’s piece:

“Consider the following facts:

Carafano Myth: “A better approach is to simply allow nations to adapt to the national security challenges implied by long-term global climate changes…any changes in climate will occur gradually over decades”
The Facts: While Carafano would rather wait and see what catastrophic repercussions transpire from climate change, the truth is that these harmful changes are not far off and have already started to take place According to NOAA, temperatures have already increased nearly two degrees on average—3 degrees is enough to significantly reduce crop yields. In addition, the scarcity of resources resulting from these changes has already begun to spurn conflict and will continue to destabilize governments, force our country to respond more frequently as first responder to natural disasters, compel us to have to deal with increased migration around the world and over our borders, and put US military facilities at risk. Not to mention that the global population is also larger than at any time in history, and most significant measures to address climate change will take decades to implement.”
Shalid quotes Carafano, but never truly responds to the overarching point he makes. Even if we assume that all of the projections Shalid is referencing are correct, and that it is United State’s responsibility to “respond” to these repercussions, it does not follow that the proper course of action is to pass the Waxman-Markley bill. Shalid is working with a false dichotomy – either we pass this bill, or we do nothing.
There is no reason for Shalid’s false dilemma; in the very quote she tries to deconstruct, Carafano provides a compelling third way to face climate change! Carafano is not asking us to sit back and “wait and see what catastrophic repercussions might transpire”, he is suggesting that we begin a process of adaptation to our changing climate.
The crux of Carafano’s argument follows neatly once his initial statement is understood. Carafono is quick to point out that the Waxman-Markley bill comes at a cost of $9 Trillion. However, the end benefit of the bill is very small – not enough to significantly change future temperature levels by any significant amount. Thus, the bill will do nothing to change the security situation on the ground.
Shalid’s response to this argument is unconvincing. Again quoting from her post:

Carafano Myth: “U.S. action alone would not impact world CO2 levels”

The Facts: If we don’t take the lead in reducing CO2 levels, other countries will, and we will lose out on the resulting jobs and economic growth. Once, the United States led the world in the production of solar panels. Now China leads and the U.S. is only fourth and we are buying clean energy technology we used to export. Not to mention that the majority of Americans believe the United States should take action on global warming even if other major industrial countries such as China and India do less. (ABC News/Washington Post Poll, June 18-21, 2009)”.

Shalid’s response ignores Carafano’s contention entirely, opting to shoot out a set of talking points in place of taking Carafano’s case head on. While it is surely interesting that the U.S. is the fourth largest producer of solar panels, or that most Americans think we should take action on global warming, it is also completely irrelevant to the question at hand.
It is my belief that this contention is the strongest point in Carafano’s entire memo, and Shalid makes a mistake by not responding to his point. In order to fully understand how strong Carafano’s case is, I think it is necessary to read a larger excerpt of his contention:

“There are significant doubts that the cap-and-trade system described in the 1,500-plus-page bill will even have a significant and positive impact on global climate trends. According to climatologist Chip Knappenberger, Waxman-Markey would moderate temperatures by only hundredths of a degree after being in effect for the next 40 years and no more than two-tenths of a degree at the end of the century.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson concurred, recently saying, “U.S. action alone will not impact world CO2 levels.”
As Carafano makes clear, the debate comes down to one question: Will the Waxman-Markley bill reduce future climate change by an amount large enough to improve the security of the United States? Carafano says no. Shalid declines to answer. Far from disproving the “myth”, Shalid strengthens Carafano’s claim by failing to respond to it.
Shalid’s last salvo is equally curious.

Carafano Myth: “The environment does not cause wars—it is how humans respond to their environment that causes conflict”

The Facts: Yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people… with guns. This is simply a silly argument – no one is arguing that conflict will occur without human intervention. Countries have been going to war over land and resources for centuries, and there is every empirically proven reason to believe that as climate change effects food, water and other resources, it will force migration, destabilize governments, and cause nations to increasingly go to war. Again, we can already see this happening in parts of Africa.

The challenge then is to act now to prevent the circumstances from developing that will make conflict more likely in the future thereby minimizing future impacts and direct costs to the United States.

No one is arguing that war will happen without human intervention. But then again, who is willing to argue that the environmental change is the main determinate of any major war in the last century? Her words remind me of those who argue that climate change is the reason hundreds of thousands of people die every year. My response to her point is of the same vein as my response to theirs – climate change may very well be a variable that leads to terrorism and conflict across the world. Yet it is but one of many variables, and the link between climate change and conflict is both more tenuous and more difficult to alter than every single socioeconomic variable that may be fueling the conflict.
This leaves the question: if the challenge is to act now to prevent circumstances that will fuel conflict, why would we spend money mitigating climate change when we can mitigate the socioeconomic variables that directly cause such conflicts at a fraction of the price?
For those interested in the intersection of climate change and security issues, I have provided a few related resources below.
Written for the Stage-
“T. Greer”. Scholar’s Stage. 28 June 2008
A short piece on the NIE Shilad referenced in her post. It argues that all who use the National Intelligence Council’s language to argue for mitigation are misreading what is actually contained within the estimate.
“T. Greer”. Scholar’s Stage. 12 June 2009.
A deconstruction of a report published by the Global Humanitarian Forum claiming that 300,000 people die a year because of climate change.
Written for other outlets-
Andrew Revkin. Dot Earth. 28 May 2009.
Andy Revkin and other commentators examine the tenuous relationship between death tolls and climate change. Also prompted by the GHF report.
Readers are welcome to submit other useful articles or blog posts on the subject.

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