Why Climate Change Is the Biggest Threat to National Security | Alternet

Photo Credit: Getmilitaryphotos/Shutterstock

By Michael Mann [1], Tom Toles [2] / Columbia University Press [3]
October 14, 2016

The following is an excerpt from the new book The Madhouse Effect [4] by Michael E. Mann & Tom Toles (Columbia University Press, 2016):

The most unfortunate part of the societal debate over climate change has been the ease of imagining a warming climate as an essentially unthreatening occurrence, the status quo.

“Global warming” sounds almost pleasant. Like a day in springtime. You may have heard someone say in response to a nice day in winter, “If this is global warming, I’ll take it!” A smooth, comfortable adjustment in living circumstances, not unlike turning up the thermostat by a degree or two. Not to worry!

This response is entirely understandable. Unfortunately, it is also entirely wrong.

Although the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is gradual and steady, the results of that increase will be anything but. People assume that noticeable effects will be far off in the future, but they are showing up right now.

Relentlessly. And if you think the effects will be felt only in some faraway corner of the globe where only polar bears and penguins live, think again. The consequences of a changing climate are occurring everywhere and, yes, likely right near you, affecting you, your family, your friends, your community. Be it national security, food, water, land, or health—ours and our planet’s—the specter of climate change is upon us.

Dreams of slowly adapting to climate change will have to be replaced with the hard reality of an ever-escalating pace of disruption and unpredictability. In what ways will the effects of climate change be felt? In nearly every way.


You don’t have to be driven by ethics, morality, religion, or altruism to recognize the threat posed by climate change. Being a national security hawk, for instance, is more than adequate. In the lexicon of the national security community, climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier—it

takes existing tensions and conflicts and amplifies them. A thawing Arctic Ocean means a new coastline to defend. It means open competition among the bordering nations of North America, Europe, and Asia for oil-drilling rights in the Arctic—rather ironic, since oil drilling is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Climate change will create more competition among a growing global population for less food, less water, and less land—a prescription for a perfect storm of global conflict.

That storm is already brewing. A compelling case can be made that the historic ongoing drought in Syria was made worse by the aggravating effects of climate change and played a key role in the civil unrest and societal instability that ultimately led to the civil war there, the reverberations of which continue to be felt around the world.

To understand how increased conflict might arise throughout the world, let’s consider how climate change will affect the underlying contributing factors. Let’s examine how climate change will have an impact on all sectors of our lives.

The global population is currently around 7.3 billion and growing. It is projected to reach 9 billion by the middle of this century and could grow to 11 billion by the end of the century. Malnutrition and hunger currently afflict more than 800,000 people, according to the World Food Programme. That number will only get larger without a concomitant increase in food production. Yet climate change will likely lead to a decrease in global food production.

In the tropics, temperatures are already close to optimal for growing cereal crops such as rice, corn, and sorghum. That might sound good, but it’s actually very bad. It means that even modest warming will lead to precipitous drops in yields due to the rapid descent down the far side of the productivity peak. That descent translates to a substantial decline in the cereal crops available to feed a large, growing, and too often malnourished population.

…(read more).

Global Climate Change
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