The Intersection

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.

Capitol.jpgIt’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


  1. #1 Ted
    May 25, 2007

    @Mr. Mignone and Dr. Drapeau,

    I’m not sure if your pieces are broadcast mode op-eds, or meant for discussion. Frankly, I find some of the points you’re making difficult to connect:

    1. The CCC essay calls out Dr. McFate and the HSCB programs in the first two paragraphs, but it is not clear how HSCB helps the Climate topic. I reviewed Young’s congressional testimony and the budget item justification. It appears to be a strictly military related (perhaps you can clarify the could have benefits section):

    Current military operations need and future operations will demand the capability to understand the social and cultural terrain and the various dimensions of human behavior within those terrains. Behaviors in the social and cultural terrain context extend across the spectrum, from adversaries to our joint U.S. forces, with our coalition partners, and with government and non-government organizations. USG and DoD capstone policy and guidance are driving this need — as articulated in NSPD-44, QDR 2006, and DoDD 3000.05 (Stability, Security. Transition and Reconstruction (SSTR)). Science and resulting technologies form a resource and base enabler for success in this area. Applied Research in Human Social Culture Behavior Modeling (HSCB) and its counterparts in BA3 and BA4 will develop technologies for human terrain understanding and forecasting in four application pillars: intelligence analysis; operations analysis/planning; training; and joint experimentation. Early priorities to develop the science and technology base will include work in the areas of: Database Infrastructure/Framework; Human behavior based theory for DoD Models; Visualization Infrastructure; and Situationally-relevant education and training tools.

    I followed the link to Dr. McFate, and there is an excellent MP3 (~89 minutes) about three links in. The gist of it appears to be a) surprisingly, we were culturally unaware in Iraq, so we should strive to be more so through introduction of another automated system to assist the warfighter and intelligence assets, b) the pentagon is the right place for a cultural awareness program, and c) the funding justification requests starts in 2008 and goes for about 6 years, but is just enough to establish a Pentagon office, but not really enough to be much more than paying people for technical papers and traveling to conferences. $55.4M doesn’t really buy much over a 6 year period.

    The MP3 I reference makes mention of many issues; paying for programs that one doesn’t use (check the box programs), the preponderance of science-industrial complex inbreeding at the military level, the view that much purchased work winds up in the warehouse where the Indiana Jones’s Ark is kept, the view that some science research is perceived as unethical. A particularly illuminating section is at ~79:00 point where Col. Glenn Ayers frankly comments with the type of stress the military goes through, and whether some programs actually even belong in the Pentagon. But I think that Col Ayers understands that it’s where the cash is, so the program has a strong chance to be in the military.

    I guess I was most surprised that the new strategy appears to be that tamping conflict works better than multi-agency conflict resolution. Any scientist that works on military programs should clearly understand that the work is primarily going to be used as national security work-product, not as work that can be freely shared with peers outside the science-military complex. That may be fine for many people, but by definition, it will not be open-source and available to suitable and critical peer review. If that’s your bag, there are plenty of beltway corporations consulting that provide these services; it’s not strictly unethical to work for the government, although certain aspects can be.

    2. The essay on the “Growing Science Consensus” appears to come to the obvious conclusion that US Climate Consensus is changing at the congressional level. Let me summarize this new governmental epiphany:

    We elected Democrats into majority in congress and now they have more influence on the committee makeup and leadership, thence agenda items show up that would not have shown up before the Democrats took majority.

    Plus I’m told that we have the lead on the blogosphere front. We are mercilessly obnoxious towards the people we helped get elected and expect them to follow up on their promises. Go figure.

    I don’t think that an honest reappraisal regarding “Climate Consensus” would have occurred under the makeup of the previous committees. You have the quote:

    A critical question is whether these developments signal real movement toward pragmatic and politically sustainable solutions.

    I interpret this to mean, will they be suitably amenable to the interests of business and the military, and will those changes be so plodding as to make them imperceptible to the American public. Maybe you mean something else but usually the codeword pragmatic and politically sustainable means, not batsh*t crazy, America hating, liberals that will tank the economy and our global strength.

    The critical answer to your critical question is, if we swing back to the apocalyptic Republicans, these developments won’t signal real movement toward pragmatic and politically sustainable solutions.

    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.

    Oh, come on. That line can be rewritten as, “Next take the new GOP objections to the climate measure…”. You know, we have been right here, watching an interesting train wreck for the last 10 years. I’m told it’s hard to take the eyes off of a train wreck.

    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?

    Yes, we shouldn’t allow the bat-sh*t, liberal crazies of the blogosphere to drag the country too far to the left. The center is where it is. A poll yesterday indicated that 72% of the Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Where’s that put the center?

    To all essay authors: Please extract the appropriate text sections for URLs that lead behind paywalls.

  2. #2 Ted
    May 25, 2007


    $55.4M doesn’t really buy much over a 6 year period.

    Found another source where it appears the funding request is for $70.4M over a six year period. Still doesn’t seem like a lot for something globally critical and dual-use.

  3. #3 Steve Bloom
    May 25, 2007

    As this is the Intersection, it seems appropriate to emphasize Ted’s final point: What if the set of centrist compromises and the set of adequate solutions fail to intersect at all? The obvious course of action is to pretend that the compromise will work anyway, and indeed that approach will probably be successful for a while. Look how well it’s served us in Iraq.

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