Planet Gore

A Cure Worse Than the Disease?

Last week I testified at a joint hearing of two House committees on the “National Security Implications of Global Climate Change.” The occasion for the hearing was the completion of a multi-agency report on climate change and national security, supervised by Dr. Thomas Fingar, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

The report is classified (albeit at the lowest level — “confidential”), and is not available to the general public. However, Dr. Fingar, the star witness, summarized the report in his testimony. Several statements and exchanges at the hearing were noteworthy.
Although Dr. Fingar presented the usual view that global warming will stress water availability in developing countries, enhancing the likelihood of conflict and instability, he said that, “climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030.” He also said that, “Net cereal crop yields [in North America] will increase by 5-20 percent . . . and most studies suggest that the United States as a whole will enjoy modest economic benefits over the next several decades largely due to increased crop yields.” Try imagining Al Gore saying that in An Inconvenient Truth or in his testimony before Congress.
Under questioning, Dr. Fingar said that his “confidence” in the report’s findings was “low to moderate.” He acknowledged that intelligence agencies don’t really know how climate change will affect U.S. national security interests, because of compounding uncertainties at each step of the analysis.
Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), who chairs a subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed no confidence in agency confidence assessments, noting that the intelligence community claimed “high confidence” for its assessment that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons and was planning to build nukes.
The gentle lady apparently did not see the irony in her remarks. If intelligence agency assessments can’t be trusted even when the confidence level is high, then they surely can’t be trusted when the confidence level is low.
Dr. Fingar also acknowledged that, in producing the report, U.S. intelligence agencies simply drew out the national-security implications of potential climate impacts as described in the “open source” literature, chiefly the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Neither “human intelligence” (spies) nor “national technical means” (electronic surveillance) were used in preparing the report. Compared to the open source literature, this was not a high “value added” product.
So why bother producing the report at all, a Committee Member asked? “Because Congress told us to,” Fingar replied.
Call me cynical, but this whole exercise is really about climate politics. Global-warming activists hope that if they can get the Pentagon to declare global warming a national-security threat, they can divide and conquer conservative opponents of Kyoto-style energy-rationing schemes, many of whom are defense hawks.
How frustrating, then, that the report is classified and can’t be shared with the media. Predictably, Chairman Markey and other Democrats said this was one more example of the Bush administration trying to hide the perils of global warming from the American people.
But Dr. Fingar assured them that keeping the report confidential was a “consensus” decision made by the researchers with no pressure from OMB or Bush appointees. It would simply not be prudent, for example, to let terrorists know which countries the U.S. intelligence community believes might be destabilized by water shortages or other climate-change impacts.
Markey also asked who at OMB made Fingar insert the following sentence on page seven of his testimony: “Government, business, and public efforts to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change — from policies to reduce greenhouse gases to plans to reduce exposure to climate change or capitalize on potential impacts — may affect U.S. national security interests even more than the physical impacts of climate change itself.”
Fingar assured Mr. Markey that the entire report, including the offending sentence, reflects the consensus views of the intelligence agencies. OMB offered no comments on this portion of the testimony, he said.
Fingar did not elaborate on how climate policy might affect national security, which he said was a topic for future research and their next report. My testimony outlines some of the issues. Here are some points Dr. Fingar might consider:
1. With crude hitting $140 a barrel, DOD is already economizing in ways it did not have to in the era of $30 oil or even $60 oil. Carbon cap-and-trade programs are designed to make fossil fuels more costly. Climate policies could force DOD to decrease the number and scope of training exercises, impairing U.S. combat readiness.
2. Economic strength is the foundation of military might. America cannot be a great power with a second-rate economy. Affordable energy is vital to economic growth. Kyoto-style energy rationing could produce stagflation and malaise and, consequently, foster weakness and isolationism.
3.  Cutting global emissions by 50 percent, as Vice President Gore and the EU advocate, will be impossible without “meaningful participation” by “key developing countries.” If the United States and the EU impose carbon tariffs on goods from developing countries that refuse to limit emissions, we will continually butt heads with China, India, and other emerging economies. Trade wars do not always end peacefully.
4. The global warming movement’s top priority is to ban new coal-fired power plants. More than 1.5 billion people in developing countries lack access to electric power, and coal is the most affordable electricity fuel in most markets. A global ban on new coal generation could trap millions in poverty and misery — not a good way to promote stability and peace.
5. Nothing would grow the nuclear industry faster than a global ban on new coal power plants. Rapid deployment of nuclear reactors in developing countries, most of which are not democracies, could increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.
The global warming debate is utterly unbalanced. The risks of climate change are always in the spotlight. The risks of climate policy go unexamined and unheeded. The next NIC report will serve a valuable public purpose if it begins to redress the balance.

Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow in environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he researches and writes on global warming, energy policy, and regulatory process reform. He has published ...


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