The Pentagon challenging the Bush Administration’s stance on global warming – sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone, doesn\\\\\\\’t it? But it’s true; last week, a report on global warming commissioned by a high-level Pentagon official was leaked to a British newspaper. The report argues that global warming “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern.” Almost all of the projected effects of climate change – including rising seas, more severe weather events, changes in crop yields, and water shortages – would have destabilizing effects on society. Pentagon experts familiar with the report conclude that global warming poses a greater threat to U.S. national security than terrorism.
The report describes a world in which changing ocean currents alter Britain’s climate to resemble that of Siberia, major European cities are flooded, and riots and wars break out over control of the water supply in different regions of the world. Although it is true that the Pentagon’s report analyzes a worst-case scenario, it is still a plausible scenario. And why should we wait to find out whether this will really happen when solutions are available now for implementation? In the words of a lead author of the report: “It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile.” The potential economic risks involved in taking aggressive action on global warming are most likely fewer than the risks, economic and otherwise, we are incurring now by refusing to act.
Nevertheless, the Bush Administration has taken no positive action to address global warming, despite President Bush’s concern for national security. The United States has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that, while by no means perfect, is a constructive first step in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Bush’s poorly named “Clear Skies Act” fails to set any sort of regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which account for over a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. And the proposed energy bill currently being considered by Congress provides billions of dollars in subsidies to the coal and oil industries, while completely failing to address global warming.
There is a concept called the “precautionary principle” that has been widely accepted in crafting European public policy but which appears to be quite alien to the Bush Administration. Basically this principle states that if an activity is suspected of being dangerous to human health or the environment, the burden of proof should fall on the industry conducting this activity to show that it is safe, rather than on the public to prove that it is not. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Hopefully the Pentagon’s report will convince the U.S. government to adopt this principle, at least in dealing with global climate change. After all, even if global warming does not produce all of the consequences described in the report, it is still certain to negatively impact the environment and the global economy on a significantly large scale.
And it’s not as though we can’t start implementing programs to slow and ultimately halt global warming. Increasing wind and solar electricity generation, setting higher energy efficiency standards, and promoting fuel-efficient cars are just some of the steps we can start taking now. The technological solutions to global warming are here; we need to start employing them. Other countries are far ahead of us in this regard. For example, Tony Blair recently announced plans to cut Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2050, a proposal which is in line with scientific recommendations for stabilizing the climate.
It is extremely unfortunate that the global warming debate in this country has become so polarized and entrenched in partisan politics. This is an issue that will personally affect all of us, and there are a variety of environmental, economic, and security-related arguments as to why this threat should be addressed now. It is becoming increasingly evident that the Bush Administration’s climate policy is dangerous and illogical from many different perspectives. And it is time that the United States rises to the challenge and starts aggressively implementing the solutions we already have.