Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLIMATE CHANGE, BABY, CLIMATE CHANGE....I genuinely don't know what to think of this. The headline in the Observer screams "Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us," and it's followed by this story:

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

Hmmm, that sounds bad.

Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.

'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.

....The fact that [Andrew] Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid [John] Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence's push on ballistic-missile defence.

A bullet list of the key findings of the report is here.

Now, I have to assume that the report is real and the Observer reporters didn't just make it up. On the other hand, the language is so apocalyptic that surely it must be part of a section labeled "absolutely positively really really worst case and not at all likely scenarios -- but we thought we'd include them anyway since that's the kind of thing we do around here."

But this is what we love about the British press, isn't it? There's really no way to tell. Perhaps they'll be kind enough to put the entire report up on their website someday so we can see for ourselves what it's really all about.

In the meantime, a note to the trolls: yes, rising seas and a "Siberian" climate in Britain are compatible with each other. One long term scenario for climate change is that overall warming causes the shutdown of the "Atlantic conveyer," an underwater current that warms northern Europe. If the conveyer stops, Britain would indeed get a lot colder even as other parts of the world warmed up.

On the other hand, I have my doubts that the Netherlands will be uninhabitable by 2007.

UPDATE: The full report is here. I haven't read the whole thing, but here's the disclaimer at the beginning:

We have interviewed leading climate change scientists, conducted additional research, and reviewed several iterations of the scenario with these experts. The scientists support this project, but caution that the scenario depicted is extreme in two fundamental ways. First, they suggest the occurrences we outline would most likely happen in a few regions, rather than on globally. Second, they say the magnitude of the event may be considerably smaller.

We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.

As disclaimers go this is actually fairly mild, especially considering the extreme nature of the projections.

Kevin Drum 6:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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