What are the appropriate roles of the defense and intelligence establishments in understanding and responding to global warming? In a recent op-ed, my colleague Mark Drapeau and I reviewed a study by the CNA Corp. that highlighted the natural security threats posed by unchecked climate change. The CNA report observed (rightly, in our view) that the predicted impacts of climate change – among them, critical shortages of food and water in some regions – could act as “threat multipliers” in some of the least developed, but strategically important parts of the world. In light of this, we argued that adding an environmental component to future defense analyses could naturally build upon existing proposals to integrate cultural and behavioral knowledge into military planning efforts, endowing defense planners with an ability to anticipate and avert resource-driven humanitarian crises and ultimately armed conflict.
Yesterday’s post on this site noted an additional benefit of such a program. Just as existing scientific, cultural and environmental knowledge could improve future defense planning efforts, this act of integration could, in turn, lead to fundamental and exciting intellectual developments with applications far beyond defense. Given the apparent win-win nature of this approach, one might expect policies of this sort to fare well among Congressional authorizers. Of course, nothing is ever that simple…
Let’s back up. Earlier in April, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Hagel (R-NB) introduced legislation that would require the impacts of climate change to be considered in future U.S. National Intelligence Estimates. By early May, Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence had added language from the original bill to H.R. 2082, a larger bill authorizing spending for all intelligence-related agencies.
The GOP tried to strip the climate provisions during markup, but the effort failed on a party-line vote of 9-11. On the floor, an amendment to strip the climate language put forth by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking member of the Select Intelligence Committee, met a similar fate. On May 11th, the House voted 230-185 to pass the legislation. Democrats later added similar provisions in the defense authorization bill, H.R. 1585, which passed the House on May 17th by an even more impressive margin, 397-27.
It’s probably too soon to know whether these developments hold any lessons for the future of climate policy in the 110th Congress, but they do suggest some things to watch for as the larger climate and energy debate unfolds. A critical question is whether these developments signal real movement toward pragmatic and politically sustainable solutions.
First take the issue of adaptation. In the broadest sense, adaptation refers to tangible societal responses to changes in climate, and this is exactly what the climate provisions in the new authorization bills are all about. Adaptation has always had a hard time generating enthusiasm among environmentalists, because, at some level, it is an implicit admission of failure. We only adapt to things that we fail to prevent. For this reason, many in the environmental community have resisted the urge to count adaptation among the “solutions” to climate change, even though adaptation and abatement are by no means mutually exclusive. So might the recent willingness to confront adaptation be viewed as one step toward pragmatism?
Next take the GOP objections to the new climate measures, and note that most of the criticism took aim at the venue – not the science itself. For example, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) summed up his objections this way: “There are other parts of the government better suited to doing this type of study… Our government should not commit expensive spy satellites and human intelligence sources to target something as undefined as the environment.” Notwithstanding the fact that this statement reflects a misunderstanding over the exact purpose of the program (it is designed to make use of existing environmental data), it does at least seem to reflect more sincere concern than ideological bias. Of course, this may simply reflect convenience (the venue argument is easier to win), but it may also reflect a growing realization that the basic results of climate science – that the Earth is warming in part due to human activity – can no longer be disputed. Another step toward reality perhaps?
And lastly, might the realization that several of the most effective solutions to the global warming problem align well with solutions to our energy security problem – and enhance our national security – support the momentum toward a centrist compromise? In theory, one need only be swayed by either climate or energy security concerns – not both – to embrace action on things like automobile performance standards. Can these overlapping agendas lead to greater consensus and a more pragmatic energy policy?
It’s obviously hard to say, but a similar debate over the climate-security connection, now gearing up in the Senate, will certainly be worth watching. It just might turn out that these new developments will open a window for the development of a rational energy policy – a window that could well persist well into election season.
Posted by: Bryan Mignone