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weather chaos: an analysis of its strategic implications

Related to my post a few weeks ago on 'weather chaos', I was just reading a Pentagon report on the strategic implications of such a change (SF Chronicle article here). Here's a link to the full report (PDF, about 1 MB). Quote from the summary:

There is substantial evidence to indicate that significant global warming will occur during the 21st century. Because changes have been gradual so far, and are projected to be similarly gradual in the future, the effects of global warming have the potential to be manageable for most nations. Recent research, however, suggests that there is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean’s thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.


The report explores how such an abrupt climate change scenario could potentially de-stabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles, and even war due to resource constraints such as:

  1. Food shortages due to decreases in net global agricultural production
  2. Decreased availability and quality of fresh water in key regions due to shifted precipitation patters, causing more frequent floods and droughts
  3. Disrupted access to energy supplies due to extensive sea ice and storminess
As global and local carrying capacities are reduced, tensions could mount around the world, leading to two fundamental strategies: defensive and offensive. Nations with the resources to do so may build virtual fortresses around their countries, preserving resources for themselves. Less fortunate nations especially those with ancient enmities with their neighbors, may initiate in struggles for access to food, clean water, or energy. Unlikely alliances could be formed as defense priorities shift and the goal is resources for survival rather than religion, ideology, or national honor.
Harsh, yes, but a good objective analysis as far as I can see. Must read. Only criticism I can think of is that the report seems to downplay completely internal strife within the US, something that would be unlikely given that coastal communities would be seriously disrupted creating internal migration patterns and the subsequent pressures on society (not counting that the SF Bay area and the New York area are responsible for huge amounts of the economic output of the US). They predict that the political integrity of the EU would be in doubt given these conditions, but similar (though milder) results could be expected within the US. Maybe they consider that as part of the "internally manageable" stuff... I'm not sure.

I'm working non-stop, but that doesn't mean I can't take a break for a moment and read depressing stuff like this. Right.

Categories: geopolitics, science
Posted by diego on February 29 2004 at 2:48 PM

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