Ten years ago, the Pentagon paid for a climate study that put forth many scary scenarios.
Consultants told the military that, by now, California would be flooded by inland seas, The Hague would be unlivable, polar ice would be mostly gone in summer, and global temperatures would rise at an accelerated rate as high as 0.5 degrees a year.
None of that has happened.
Yet the 2003 report, “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security,” is credited with kick-starting the movement that, to this day and perhaps with more vigor than ever, links climate change to national security.
The report also became gospel to climate change doomsayers, who predicted pervasive and more intense hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts.
“The release of this report is what likely sparked the ‘modern era’ of security interest in climate affairs,” said Jeff Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonprofit that examines scientific issues that affect public policy.
“It was widely publicized and very much a tool of the political battles over climate raging at the time,” said Mr. Kueter, who sees as “tenuous” a link between U.S. security and climate change.
Doug Randall, who co-authored the Pentagon report, said, “Even I’m surprised at how often it’s referred to.
“I think it did have an impact, for sure, in getting people talking and seeing the connection, which at that time was harder for some people than it is today,” said Mr. Randall, who heads the consulting firm Monitor 360.
Some critics say such alarmist reports are causing the Pentagon to shift money that could be used for weapons and readiness. It is making big investments in biofuels, for example, and is working climate change into high-level strategic planning.
There is no exact budget line for climate change. The Government Accountability Office in 2011 documented a big increase in federal spending, from $4.6 billion in 2003 to nearly $9 billion in 2010.
Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, has been the chief congressional critic of the Pentagon’s financial commitment to climate change. He said biofuel projects should be left to the Energy Department.
“The president’s misguided priorities with our national security can be seen in the $1 trillion defense cuts he has put into motion since taking office and then using the limited defense budget to support his green agenda,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement to The Washington Times. “His green spending in the defense budget is based on the belief that climate change is the ‘new weapon of mass destruction.’ In the meantime the president has loosened sanctions on Iran, [which] has maintained their resources to develop and launch a nuclear weapon — the real weapon of mass destruction.”
Predictions vs. reality
The 2003 report was produced by a consulting firm, then called the Global Business Network, for the Pentagon’s office of net assessment. It is a driving force to allocate money to counter global threats — in this case, climate change.
Under the section “Warming up to 2010,” here are some of the report’s key scenarios, compared with what has transpired:
• By 2005, “more severe storms and typhoons bring about higher storm surges and floods.”
Today: The most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said it has “low confidence” of an increase in hurricanes or tornadoes. The U.S. is likely experiencing fewer tornadoes compared with 50 years ago, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year’s tornado season was historically low.
The U.N. report said: “No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricane counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”
In December, Roger Pielke, a scientist who has conducted extensive analysis of storm history, told a Senate panel: “There exists exceedingly little scientific support for claims found in the media and political debate that hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts have increased in frequency or intensity on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.”
The U.S. has not experienced a major hurricane in nearly 10 years.
• Global temperatures will increase by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit per decade and, in some areas, 0.5 degrees per year.
Today: Scientists skeptical of man-made climate change say satellite data show there has been no increase in 17 years. The Environmental Protection Agency, a strong climate change advocate, puts the decade increase at 0.3 degrees.
• There will be more floods, making coastal cities such as The Hague “unlivable” by 2007.
Today: The Hague is still livable.
The United Nations said this year: “There continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.”
• “Floating ice in the northern polar seas is mostly gone during the summer by 2010.”
Today: Arctic sea ice remains. Warming in the polar region has reduced the ice extent, from 2.8 million square miles at its yearly summer minimum in 1979, when satellite measuring began, to 2.1 million square miles in 2013, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
• Sacramento River levees will fail, creating “an inland sea” in California that “disrupts the aqueduct system transporting water.”
Today: There are no inland seas in California.
‘A [false] sense of urgency’
Mr. Randall’s consultant’s report called on the Department of Defense to act, calling the scenarios “not implausible.”
“There appears to be general agreement in the scientific community that an extreme case like the one depicted below is not implausible,” the report said. “Many scientists would regard this scenario as extreme both in how soon it develops [and] how large, rapid and ubiquitous the climate changes are. But history tells us that sometimes the extreme cases do occur and it is DOD’s job to consider such scenarios.”
Asked about his scenarios for the 2003-2010 period, Mr. Randall said in an interview: “The report was really looking at worst-case. And when you are looking at worst-case 10 years out, you are not trying to predict precisely what’s going to happen but instead trying to get people to understand what could happen to motivate strategic decision-making and wake people up. But whether the actual specifics came true, of course not. That never was the main intent.”
Skeptics say the problem with such alarmist reports is that they become the playbook for the aggressive global warming movement, which repeats the scenarios as fact. President Obama last week predicted the world will experience more intense storms more frequently, even though U.N. scientists have not found that it is happening.
Said the Marshall Institute’s Mr. Kueter: “The real danger is that it bestows a sense of urgency that is not warranted and can lead to the dangerous expansion of U.S. security concerns, inappropriately applied resources and diversion of attention from more effective responses to known environmental challenges.”
The Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review, its policy paper on threats and how to deal with them, cites increased storms as a danger.
The QDR stated: “As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating.”
The QDR said this supposed trend, coupled with “more affluent populations and substantial economic growth will devastate homes, land and infrastructure.”
On Tuesday, the Pentagon issued a press article with the headline, “Climate Change Affects National Defense Decisions, Official Says.”
It quoted Daniel Y. Chiu, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who told a Senate panel, “We’re working to take into consideration the impacts of climate change in our longer-term planning scenarios.”
As for the 2010-2020 decade, the Randall report says, in part: “The effects of the drought are more devastating than the unpleasantness of temperature decreases in the agricultural and populated areas. With the persistent reduction of precipitation in these areas, lakes dry up, river flow decreases, and freshwater supply is squeezed, overwhelming available conservation options and depleting freshwater reserves.”
The Times asked the Pentagon whether it is basing climate change spending on alarmist reports.
A spokesman said: “The Department is incorporating consideration of likely future scenarios in planning to mitigate risk. Its responses to climate change range from the DOD Arctic Strategy — which is focused on increased engagement and stability in a region that is already seeing increased activity — to a new floodplain-management policy that directs minimization of new construction in floodplains. Even our approach to energy efficiency is focused on mission benefits and monetary savings, with carbon reductions as a side effect.”