Politics & Policy

National Security Goes Green

The Obama administration's latest Quadrennial Defense Review relies on flawed climate science.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review report gives unprecedented attention to the issue of climate change. Previous QDR reports did not identify climate change, global warming, or other environmental issues as major concerns for U.S. security. The 2010 QDR, by contrast, dedicates three of its 105 pages (plus executive summary) to the issue, highlighting it (along with energy) in a section dedicated to its impact on the “future security environment.”

All in all, the report mentions “climate change” 19 times. China is mentioned only eleven times, Iran five times, Russia four times, and North Korea three times. It seems that the Obama administration views climate change as a major national-security concern. The QDR sees the potential consequences of global warming — retreating glaciers, extreme weather, rising sea levels and temperatures, food security and water scarcity, disease — as potential contributors to instability and conflict.

This approach leads to recommendations that limit the flexibility of the military by, for example, limiting its options regarding the use of energy. While the QDR asserts that such steps will not undermine the military’s ability to perform its missions, it is likely they will. This is like telling the fire department to cut down on hydrant use in order to conserve water.

The consequences of climate change asserted in the QDR are based on evidence and conclusions from the U.S. Global Change Research Program report. This should raise questions, because that report, particularly its chapter on global climate change, draws heavily on analysis and evidence provided in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Recent months have seen the IPCC come under increasing criticism for relying on non-peer-reviewed articles and documents that do not accurately reflect the state of scientific knowledge on the issues.

For instance, the link between extreme weather and global warming is debatable. Yet the IPCC asserted such a relationship as fact, based on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific review. A recent story by the (U.K.) Times Online revealed that the IPCC “ignored warnings from scientific advisers that the evidence supporting the link [was] too weak” and that the “report’s own authors later withdrew the claim because they felt the evidence was not strong enough.”

As numerous news outlets have reported, the IPCC itself has been forced to disavow its claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 and acknowledge that it had no scientific basis. The debate over the impact of climate change on disease is also far from settled, yet the IPCC (and the QDR) treats increased spread of disease from climate change as a foregone conclusion.

Just this past weekend, the Times Online reported that Prof. Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC’s climate-impacts team, could find nothing in the IPCC report to support its claim that ”global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50% by 2020, a remarkably short time for such a dramatic change.” The QDR followed the IPCC on this error, too, claiming that climate change will impact food security.

These problems come on top of the Climategate e-mails, which revealed that scientists contributing to the IPCC went to enormous efforts to manipulate data to support their conclusions and silence and denigrate critics who questioned their work or sought access to their data.

All of this seems to be a very shaky foundation upon which to reshape America’s defense strategy. In its oversight role, Congress should challenge the administration’s inclusion of climate change as a defense priority.

Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives. Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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