MICHAEL McKINLEY. Another climate change warning and the return of a Pentagon prophecy the new government might take seriously.

Richard Butler recently made the point on this site that, in relation to foreign policy,  the Australian Government finds the disposition and pose of the ostrich to be  to its liking: a futile self-absorption in reality denial. To this I would add that it is common to almost every policy area, and it recalls the traditional response of the successive Pontificates over so many years to their own travails. Essentially and ironically, it is an attempt to insist that the intruding world of dissent and challenges to the status quo ignore the nature of necessity and things which provide for current comforts and privileges at the expense of long-term disaster. 

This arse-to-the-world-of-science now prevails even in countries ostensibly possessing a democratic polity.  Indeed, the reigning authorities feel free to dispute the overwhelming findings of science going back several decades on the basis of what seems like a genetic fascination with attributing them to an axis consisting of charlatans of leftist, socialist, and environmental persuasions.

Radical checks on greenhouse gas emissions are, therefore, dismissed out of hand as though they are some sort of atavistic return to the genetic theories of Trofim Lysenko and thus camouflage for an anti-capitalist demarche.

In doing so their rule-by-denial assumes the nature of government and rule by absolute regulation which Morris West wrote so telling of: it is beyond effective appeal on the grounds of either: non expedit (it is not expedient); non e opportune (it is not timely), or (simply) fiat (let it be done thus).

What then to make of a recent report published under in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS) alerting the attentive world to the plausible possibility that global sea levels could rise by twice as much as had previously been predicted – to over 6 feet by 2100 – in the course of which major cities will be inundated and hundreds of millions of people displaced.

Large parts of low-lying countries like Bangladesh would become uninhabitable, while critical areas for food production would be lost. While the overall effects would be global, major cities, including Boston, London, New Orleans, New York and Miami, would also be threatened, according to the study.  Most of the damage, however, would be in Asia, Australia’s immediate strategic neighbourhood.

Unless one is of the view that the NAS is technically, scientifically, incompetent, that its Proceedings is an organ of leftist agitprop to boot, and that the report’s line of pedigree from scores of similar analyses speaks only to the cunning of leftist, anti-capitalist penetration of Western science, then its conclusions are not only frightening but also a form of haunting.

Sixteen years ago, a report commissioned by Andrew Marshall, head of the US Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment, was published under the title of An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario.  It found that, on the bases of scenarios which were widely accepted as plausible, advised the Pentagon that climate change “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern.”

The reason: because it has the potential for creating global anarchy as countries take unilateral action to defend and secure their dwindling food, water, and energy resources as conditions deteriorate.  By way of elaboration it foresaw:

the possibility that a more dire climate scenario may actually be unfolding….

. . .  fishing wars between Spain and Portugal. Pakistan, India, and China – all armed with nuclear weapons – skirmish at their borders over refugees, access to shared rivers, and arable land. Bangladesh becomes uninhabitable. Drought hits the American breadbasket. Britain’s weather begins to resemble Siberia. India, South Africa, and Indonesia are ripped apart by civil war. And ultimately, the report forecasts a decrease in the planet’s human carrying capacity, leading to sharp reductions in the world’s population due to starvation, disease, and war.

Crucially, it described scenarios in which escaping populations in their millions took to whatever modes of maritime transport they had available to them and simply headed to the nearest large land masses which could afford them sanctuary from rising sea levels.

As with so many reports on climate change, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario was initially suppressed by the Pentagon, for some four months, one spokesman saying:

Andrew Marshall is our Yoda, our big thinker who peers into the future. But it’s all speculation. It was very ethereal, very broad in scope.  It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, wow, that totally debunks the President’s stand on global warming,’ because it was merely a thought exercise” (underlining added).

What needs to be appreciated is that the provenance of this document was virtually impeccable; indeed, almost from within a so-called policy community which then was noted for its conviviality to the neo-conservative ascendancy.  Marshall, for instance, is widely regarded as a “Pentagon legend,” a senior official of long experience and who, is given credit for being behind the policy of Ballistic Missile Defence development.  As for its author-consultants, Peter Schwartz was a CIA consultant and former head of planning for Shell Oil; Doug Randall is a senior member of the California-based think tank, Global Business Network.

These are not the type of analyst one associates with the left, anti-capitalism, or the green extreme. They are their antitheses.  And definitely not ostriches.

Michael McKinley is a member of the Emeritus Faculty, The Australian National University.

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