When a “scandalous” story breaks in the United States, makes no waves, resurfaces a few weeks later in the left-wing British press, and only then do liberal activists start haranguing people about it, it is safe to say that the story should be treated with a little suspicion. That is certainly the case with the environmental cri du jour, that the Pentagon is alarmed by the national-security aspects of global warming and recommends immediate action. Even the Pentagon thinks global warming is worse than terrorism!
It’s all nonsense, of course, as you’d expect from any story touted round the media by Greenpeace. The story broke in the January 26 issue of Fortune magazine, when reporter David Stipp wrote a pretty sensationalist piece entitled “The Pentagon’s Weather Nightmare.” It centered on the revelations that the Pentagon had become “interested” in the national security implications of a new ice age caused by the Gulf Stream shutting down as a result of global warming (something that seems to be the current zeitgeist of the alarmist movement, given the impending disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, starring Dennis Quaid as an heroic paleoclimatologist, if you can conceive of such a thing). Not unreasonably, the scenario written for the Pentagon, and shared with Fortune magazine as an unclassified document, said that, if such a thing were to happen, there would be considerable turmoil in the world that could pose a problem for the U.S. Hordes of Canadians pouring across the border might indeed be a serious issue (although one imagines the creators of South Park would make hay).
The story went nowhere. It was ignored by the heavyweight press and received not a drop of attention on the cable news shows. Then, on Feb. 22, almost a full month after the Fortune story, the Observer, the Sunday sister paper of Britain’s left-wing Guardian newspaper, ran a story with the not-at-all-alarmist headline, “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us.” The subheads ran, “Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war, Britain will be ‘Siberian’ in less than 20 years, Threat to the world is greater than terrorism.”
This represents appalling journalism. The report was not secret, but unclassified and certainly not “suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer” (presumably by the furtive and dangerous method of asking the Pentagon for it); the report’s only mention of Britain relates to it being a nuclear power; and the comparison to terrorism is actually made not by the Pentagon but by British scientists on their own crusade to terrify America into adopting the Kyoto protocol. Far from concluding that global warming “will destroy us,” the report actually concludes that such a dramatic event as the sudden onset of an ice age would present “new challenges” for the United States, admittedly ones with “potentially dire consequences.”
The Observer was bold enough to trot out Bob Watson, former alarmist-in-chief at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to speculate on the importance of the report. He said, “Its hugely embarrassing…. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act.” Demonstrating the sophistication of his insight into Republican politics, he concluded, “There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon.”
If Dr. Watson had bothered to read the report (22-page PDF link) he might have been less embarrassed later. The report is clearly not the conclusion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but a “what-if” exercise conducted by a couple of well-known “futurist” consultants who presumably make a tidy sum from coming up with the sort of scenarios science-fiction fans enjoy creating at the weekends. In fact, the very first words one reads after the title make it clear how speculative the report is. Here they are:
The purpose of this report is to imagine the unthinkable–to push the boundaries of current research on climate change so we may better understand the potential implications on United States national security.
We have interviewed leading climate change scientists, conducted additional research, and reviewed several iterations of the scenario with these experts. The scientists support this project, but caution that the scenario depicted is extreme in two fundamental ways. First, they suggest the occurrences we outline would most likely happen in a few regions, rather than on globally. Second, they say the magnitude of the event may be considerably smaller.
We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.
In other words, even the alarmist scientists that consider climate change potentially dangerous would regard the scenario presented as extreme.
Moreover, part of the scientific basis advanced for the scenario is a similar occurrence some 8,000 years ago. It may have escaped the alarmists’ notice, but this happened before oil companies gained political influence and Western materialists started driving SUVs. And the ways in which the authors suggest the issue should be “considered immediately” are not global impoverishment programs like the Kyoto protocol (which one would imagine would come with security implications of its own, as we all know global poverty causes terrorism) but simply more advanced climate models. That’s what the president has already asked for.
The unthinking forces of the Observer, Greenpeace and the enviro fringe have eaten it all up, of course. It’s not unthinkable to them, because it fits their model of humanity destroying itself because of its materialism.
Need any more convincing of its irrelevance? Arianna Huffington has just written a column about it.
–Iain Murray is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.