A new study on global warming for the nation's intelligence services makes grim reading. The bottom line, mirroring those of similar studies for the military, goes something like this: Climate change is accelerating, bringing more frequent climate disruptions, with dire implications for international stability and U.S. national security.
The study by the National Research Council concluded that the intelligence agencies are ill-prepared to deal with the myriad consequences of climatic events such as droughts, heat waves and storms that are increasing in number and severity as the atmosphere heats up.
The magnitude of the threat requires a government-wide strategy for responding in multiple ways, possibly militarily, to an array of potential crises in any part of the world, the study emphasized. "National security decision makers do not like surprises and expect the intelligence community to provide sufficient warning" of impending disaster.
While the study does not tie Hurricane Sandy directly to climate change, the deadly storm that hit the East Coast was described as a useful template for the sorts of climate-driven events that will, even in the short term, threaten lives and property on an ever-grander scale.
Shortages, epidemics, overtaxed humanitarian efforts, toppling governments and armed conflicts over resources, for example, all can be triggered by "climate surprises" disruptions occurring singly, or as interconnected events that combine to threaten or rupture the production and global supply chain of such essential commodities as oil and food.
In dispiriting counterpoint to the sense of urgency conveyed in the NRC study, President Obama said Wednesday that while he believes climate change is real and "impacted" by human reliance on carbon fuels, to address it "in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices."
After a presidential campaign in which climate change was rarely broached, Obama said that he isn't prepared to make those tough choices at the expense of jobs and growth of the nation's carbon-based economy "simply to address climate change," and neither are the American people.
What the American people could use is a second-term president willing to treat climate change as something more than a political non-starter and a drag on the nation's economy. Climate change is a growing threat to national security, period, and President Obama should give it the level of attention that the Pentagon and CIA have been warned it must get if we are to effectively cope with climate catastrophe.