Sun, 25 Sep 2011 01:30:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reaction to Global Warning project Thu, 03 Feb 2011 14:46:08 +0000 By Heather Somerville
Medill National Security Reporting Project
Reporting from Washington

“I think student journalists don’t often get the respect that working journalists get. I think we proved that when you have all the pieces in place, have the right students and have the right topic, you can do innovative stuff.”
— Heather Somerville, a Global Warning reporter, as quoted in a new AJR story on the students’ efforts).

It took months of rigorous research, hundreds of interviews and thousands of miles traveled, but on Jan. 10, 2011, reporters from the Medill National Security Reporting Project unveiled findings from their investigation into the national security threat of climate change.

The reporters, 10 graduate students from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, broke news about the government’s failures to address climate change, the military’s preparations for climate disasters and the security threat of a changing global environment.

The project, Global Warning, immediately caught the attention of security experts and prominent media organizations after it was featured in major media outlets in the U.S. and around the world. Three stories in the Global Warning series were published in The Washington Post. Others were picked up by McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington website and sent to hundreds of publications across the nation.

Will Rogers at the Center for a New American Security called the project “an excellent resource for those currently studying climate change and national security issues, but also for building out that audience.”

The feedback quickly poured in through the Global Warning social media network of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and e-newsletters, which reporters used daily during the three-month investigation. Environmentalists, military officials, security experts, journalists, academics and nonprofit organizations commented on the sophistication of Global Warning’s reporting and presentation.

Published in print and online in three installments, the Global Warning investigative series uncovered critical data gaps in U.S. intelligence on climate change, the shortcomings of military preparations for environmental changes and efforts by the George W. Bush administration to shutter climate change research. The stories take a hard look into some of the most critical national security threats posed by climate change, the political and financial challenges surrounding climate change and security issues, and where the U.S. government is unprepared to deal with them. Reporters went to the Arctic, Peru, Bangladesh, the Gulf Coast, NASA and CIA headquarters to find the stories.

The Huffington Post featured a Tweet that trumpeted the “amazing reporting” on the national security threat of climate change.

The team’s work appeared in The Miami Herald, The Vancouver Sun, The Kansas City Star, The Olympian, The Seattle Times and dozens of other media outlets. Major publications including USA Today, The Hill and Forbes linked to the stories and the Global Warning website, which features innovative multimedia and a library of documents that the team used in their reporting.

Global Warning stories dominated McClatchy’s web traffic the day of the project’s launch, taking three of the top-five spots for the most-emailed stories. Environmental publications including Climate Progress and Society for Environmental Journalists featured Global Warning stories on their websites, and the stories appeared on numerous blogs and news aggregate sites.

Here is a rundown of some of the commentary on the investigation:

• Will Rogers at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense policy research center, blogged about Global Warning’s innovative graphics and reporting. Rodgers called the project “an excellent resource for those currently studying climate change and national security issues, but also for building out that audience.” CNA natural security fellow Christine Parthemore Tweeted her praise for the project.

• Global Warning got a shout-out from environment reporter Bryan Walsh on Ecocentric, a blog published on Walsh wrote: “In a world of shrinking media resources and shorter attention spans … Medill’s Global Warning project shows how it can be done.”

• Ezra Klein of The Washington Post highlighted the project and Jacquelyn Ryan’s story on securing U.S. interests in the melting Arctic in his morning Wonkbook. Jeff Stein at The Washington Post wrote about Global Warning in his column SpyTalk, highlighting Annie Snider’s and Charles Mead’s story about challenges at the CIA climate change center.

• Global Warning got a nod via Twitter from Andrew Revkin, who writes The New York Times Dot Earth blog.

•The Huffington Post featured a Tweet that trumpeted the “amazing reporting” on the national security threat of climate change by Medill post-grad journalists.

•Experts at the U.S. Navy Climate Change Center and Center for Naval Analyses applauded Global Warning reporters in e-mails.

•The Institute for Environmental Security featured the project on its Environmental Security Action Guide, which compiles the most useful web resources on environment and security.

• Climate change news site The Daily Climate called Global Warning an “A+ package” of reporting.

• Andrew Holland, climate change and security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Tweeted that Global Warning is “a great product of serious reporting” and calling one of the interactive graphics “a visual that makes complex links between climate and security simple.”

• Geoff Dabelko, environmental security expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, sent his congratulations with a Tweet of “Well done guys!”

Since the project’s publication, Global Warning reporters have moved on in the journalism industry, with some taking jobs at The New York Times, Greenwire and Bloomberg. Global Warning was the first project in a series of annual investigative reporting efforts by Medill’s National Security Journalism Initiative.

Read a collection of reactions to the project on the next page.

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Blind to the threat Tue, 25 Jan 2011 05:01:20 +0000 By Emmarie Huetteman
Medill National Security Reporting Project

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Shortly after liftoff in February 2009, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory — or what was left after it re-entered the atmosphere — crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica, unable to reach orbit due to a faulty shield. A $250 million investment had become scrap metal on the ocean floor.

If the launch had been successful, OCO would have been the first satellite dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and tracking emission reduction efforts, offering crucial insight into the earth’s changing climate. This information is needed not only by scientists monitoring the environment but also federal officials struggling to understand rising threats of those climate changes to national security.

“Here’s a key variable for understanding climate change, the only satellite in the world that will do the kind of global collection we need, [and it] crashes,” said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of an influential report on climate observation. “And we haven’t thought about how to replace it.”

An artist’s rendering of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA)

The short, unproductive life of OCO — and the lack of a backup plan — marked another chapter in the long-running story of the nation’s teetering climate observation system. For two decades, the U.S. constellation of earth science satellites has been beset by competing priorities, shrinking budgets and mismanagement, even as intelligence and military officials express serious concerns about the national security threats posed by climate change and the need for accurate data to help assess those threats.

In a world where the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica is intact one day and collapses into the sea the next, scientists say the need for continuous, reliable satellite observation is vital. It enables more accurate projections, allowing policymakers to decide, for example, whether to build a military base in an area that will flood as sea levels rise; more accurate data also warns the U.S. military that it may have to evacuate people before a devastating tsunami, like the one that killed hundreds of thousands in Indonesia in 2004.

Dr. Berrien Moore III, who co-chaired a National Research Council committee on space-based observation, said calculated climate change predictions failed to capture how fast sea ice would decline, a problem that experts say will threaten national security as it causes mass flooding from rising sea levels. But satellites caught what the models missed.

“Thank God for the [satellite] observations because otherwise we wouldn’t have known this is going on,” said Moore, vice president for weather and climate programs at the University of Oklahoma.

The Obama administration has made its support for improved satellite observation of climate change known, taking steps toward restoring NASA’s earth sciences budget to its fiscal 2000 level, including $171 million to build OCO-2, after cuts by the Bush administration, and working to coordinate efforts among agencies. But the president’s 2011 budget hasn’t passed yet, and many congressional Republicans eager to cut federal spending are gunning for climate change programs.

The Bush Years

In 2005, the National Research Council released a grim report on its study of earth observation from space, saying the “system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse.” The 18-person committee of academics and researchers noted an “alarming” weakening of U.S. support for such programs.

Under President George W. Bush, NASA’s earth science budget shrunk more than 30 percent to free money for space exploration, including a mission to Mars, even as many satellites were approaching or past their life expectancy.

Meet the Satellites

Check out NASA’s Eyes on the Earth, an interactive 3D graphic that explores the agency’s Earth observing satellites.

The report called for NASA to spend more money on earth science programs, but NASA Administrator Michael Griffin had other priorities, according to Moore, co-chair of the committee that wrote it. “To say the least, [Griffin] didn’t embrace it.’’

In its 2010 report “Earth Observation for Climate Change,” CSIS asserted half of all climate satellites will have outlived their design life within the next eight years.  Lewis, the author, said that figure came from senior NOAA officials who were concerned that there were no plans to address the aging system.

During the Bush administration, numerous satellite missions were either cut or shelved:

  • The Global Precipitation Measurement mission, designed to replace the aging Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, was delayed from 2010 until at least 2012. Under President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budget, GPM would launch in mid-2013. Against the odds, the 13-year-old TRMM is still working, and it’s unclear how much longer it will survive.
  • The Landsat series, a nearly 40-year-old mission run by the U.S. Geological Survey, had its next satellite delayed until at least 2011. This mission watches rising sea levels, glacial movement and coral reef decline — and charts environmental conditions for military and intelligence uses. But one satellite is experiencing degraded image quality due to a malfunction, and the other has been up since 1984. However, the next launch has been delayed until 2012.
  • The Hydros mission to measure soil moisture and permafrost, as well as improve forecasting of droughts and floods, was canceled. Under the president’s proposed budget, NASA would launch a satellite to measure soil moisture in 2014.

But what is perhaps the biggest misstep started even earlier.

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Related: Medill’s Climate Change Site Wed, 19 Jan 2011 13:46:11 +0000

Spires of tufa at Mono Lake in California hold clues to climate change to help predict water shortages in some of thirstiest places on earth. (Photo by Scott Stine)

The earth’s oceans, glaciers, deserts and caves show how climate changed very quickly and very dramatically in the past and how the human thirst for fossil fuels is driving us to another tipping point. For scientists researching abrupt climate change, unlocking the past provides the tools to predict the future.

Abrupt climate change can occur in a matter of decades or even years, bringing the threat of severe weather, disease and drought. Climate Change, a site by students in Medill science and environmental reporters, is devoted to the on-going research of leading climate scientists and their latest findings on impacts and solutions as the earth warms.

Sea temperatures at the start of the 2010 hurricane season. Rising ocean temperatures and severe weather are the forecasts for global warming. (NASA)

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Losing the Andes glaciers Mon, 17 Jan 2011 05:01:01 +0000

Click on the video to hear from the Peruvian village of Utupampa about the impact of climate change in the Andes. Rising temperatures have caused mountain glaciers to melt, threatening the village’s water supply and survival.

By Heather Somerville
Medill National Security Reporting Project

HUARAZ, Peru — Glacier melt hasn’t caused a national crisis in Peru, yet. But high in the Andes, rising temperatures and changes in water supply have decimated crops, killed fish stocks and forced entire villages to question how they will survive for another generation.

U.S. officials are watching closely because without quick intervention, they say, the South American nation could become an unfortunate case study in how climate change can destabilize a strategically important region and, in turn, create conditions that pose a national security threat to Americans thousands of miles away.

“Think what it would be like if the Andes glaciers were gone and we had millions and millions of hungry and thirsty Southern neighbors,” said former CIA Director R. James Woolsey. “It would not be an easy thing to deal with.”

Glaciers in the South American Andes are melting faster than many scientists predicted, causing a dramatic change in the region’s availability of water for drinking, irrigation and electricity. Some climate change experts estimate entire glaciers will disappear in 10 years due to rising global temperatures, threatening to create instability across the globe long before their ultimate demise.

Related news

Browse the documents:
World Bank Report on Climate Change in Latin America
– How Colombia’s security will be impacted
– What a State Dept. official is telling Congress
– Why climate change in Latin America matters to the U.S. military

That’s particularly the case in Peru, where glacier melt has begun to deplete crops, displace communities, cause widespread drinking water shortages, destabilize hydroelectric power, diminish trade and affect transportation and tourism. The trend is expected to cause regional conflict, economic crises, increased crime, broken infrastructure and food insecurity.

Without substantial foreign assistance within the next five years, the disappearance of Peru’s glaciers could lead to a social and economic disaster, said Alberto Hart, climate change adviser at Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s also become a policy and funding challenge for the Obama administration, which must decide whether to send money, development assistance and possibly even military help south to an important democratic ally on a continent where Chinese and Iranian influence is growing, and anti-U.S. sentiment permeates certain regimes.

Other U.S. allies vulnerable to the impacts of climate change will be paying close attention to how the U.S. responds. Peru’s crisis could set a precedent for how the U.S. uses diplomacy, foreign aid and the military to address the climate change threats around the world.

“We may think that current wait-and-see policies are adequate to the task,” said Chad Briggs, Minerva Chair for Energy and Environmental Security with the U.S. Air Force. “Peru may be a looming example of how that is not the case.”

Senior U.S. diplomatic and military officials acknowledge the importance of helping Peru and other nations respond. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, State Department Climate Change Envoy Todd Stern and Western Hemisphere Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela have made repeated trips to the region since early 2010 to discuss climate change and energy security.

Climate change is “a significant threat” to the region, and the U.S. must “really come to terms” with the security challenges it poses, Valenzuela said at a recent discussion with college students in Washington.

So far, Washington has responded with some assistance to Peru, primarily through development and anti-deforestation programs. Peruvian officials, though, have voiced frustration with what they contend is poor coordination among U.S. agencies, U.S. disregard for the importance of global cooperation and an agenda that fails to address the urgent need in Peru.

In a recent interview in Lima, one senior Peruvian official working on climate change issues said the U.S. has made it clear that climate change is not a priority in its negotiations with Peru.

It’s certainly a priority for Peru, which is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change risks, according to the U.K. Tyndall Centre on Climate Change, and will suffer the most immediate impacts of glacier melt. It also is struggling with rampant poverty, ethnic tensions, insurgency and continuing border disputes with Chile and Ecuador.

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How climate change threatens the homeland Mon, 10 Jan 2011 05:12:48 +0000 Changes in climate are already under way across the United States. Scientists project that Americans will be impacted more and more over the coming decades as rain patterns shift, sea levels rise and temperatures climb. As rain patterns become more volatile, farmers have to cope with less reliable water supply, and compete with urban areas over water resources. Infrastructure around the Gulf coast, an energy bottleneck, is at risk, and cities and coastal areas will feel the impact of rising sea levels, more storms and higher floods, all of which threaten the infrastructure millions of people rely on every day.

Watch the videos below to find out more about the threats facing the U.S., exemplified by the Houston, California valley and New York regions.

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Our man in the greenhouse Mon, 10 Jan 2011 05:07:25 +0000 Our man in the greenhouse

Shot aboard a space shuttle nearly 200 miles above the Earth's surface in 1996. (NASA)

By Charles Mead and Annie Snider
Medill National Security Reporting Project

WASHINGTON — This summer, as torrential rains flooded Pakistan, a veteran intelligence analyst named Larry watched closely from his desk at CIA headquarters just outside the capital.

For Larry, head of the CIA’s year-old Center on Climate Change and National Security, the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history is a warning.

“It has the exact same symptoms you would see for future climate change events, and we’re expecting to see more of them,” Larry, who asked his last name not be used for security reasons, said in a recent interview at the CIA. “We wanted to know: What are the conditions that lead to a situation like the Pakistan flooding? What are the important things for water flows, food security, [displaced people], radicalization, disease?”

As intelligence officials assess key components of state stability like these, they are realizing that the norms they had been operating with — like predictable river flows and crop yields — are shifting.

But the U.S. government is ill-prepared to act on changes that are coming faster than anticipated and threaten to bring instability to places of U.S. national interest, according to interviews with several dozen current and former officials and outside experts, and a review of two decades’ worth of government reports.  Climate projections lack critical detail, they say, and information about how people react to changes — for instance, by migrating — is sparse.  Military brass say they don’t yet have the intelligence they need in order to act.

Watch climate change and intelligence videos

Click to watch video from interviews with (clockwise from top left): former Department of Energy intelligence chief Rolf Mowatt-Larssen; President of the National Academy of Sciences Ralph Cicerone; former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey; and retired Gen. Charles Wald.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a 23-year veteran of the CIA who led the Department of Energy’s intelligence unit from 2005 to 2008, said the intelligence community simply isn’t structured to deal with a problem like climate change that isn’t about stealing secrets.

“I consider what the U.S. government is doing on climate change to be lip service,” said Mowatt-Larssen, currently a fellow at Harvard University. “It’s not serious.”

Just getting to where the intelligence community is now, though, has been a challenge.

Back in the 1990s, the CIA opened an environmental center, swapped satellite imagery with Russia and cleared U.S. scientists to access classified information. But when the Bush administration took power, the center was absorbed by another office and work related to the climate was broadly neglected.

In 2007, a report (pdf) by retired high-ranking military officers called attention to the national security implications of climate change, and the National Intelligence Council followed a year later with an assessment (pdf) on the topic. But some Republicans attacked it as a diversion of resources.

And when CIA Director Leon Panetta stood up the climate change center in 2009, conservative lawmakers attempted to block its funding. “The CIA’s resources should be focused on monitoring terrorists in caves – not polar bears on icebergs,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said at the time.

Now, with calls for belt tightening coming from every corner, leadership in Congress has made it clear that the intelligence budget, which soared to $80.1 billion last year, will have to be cut. And after sweeping victories by conservatives in the midterm elections, many political insiders think the community’s climate change work will be in jeopardy.

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Houston oil infrastructure exposed to storms Mon, 10 Jan 2011 05:06:55 +0000

Many refineries in and around Houston are located in low-lying areas scholars say are susceptible to damage from hurricane storm surge and flooding. (Sonja Elmquist/Medill)

By Sonja Elmquist
Medill National Security Reporting Project

HOUSTON — The largest search and rescue operation in U.S. history; the largest Texas evacuation ever; a $30 billion price tag and 112 deaths in the U.S.

That’s what dodging a bullet looks like.

Because that is all that was lost in September 2008 when Hurricane Ike made landfall northeast of Galveston, Texas.

Related news

Browse the documents
– The Department of Homeland Security’s quadrennial strategy document
– A study outlining the threats to roads, railways, ports and airports in the Gulf coast region

Ike drove a 15-foot storm surge across coastal Texas and up the Houston Ship Channel, shutting down a fifth of U.S. oil production for the storm’s duration and leaving the area’s refinery capacity struggling for months. And Ike was only a Category 2 storm with mild-for-a-hurricane winds of 109 mph.

If Ike had been a direct hit on the channel, refineries would have been flooded with seawater despite 16-foot fortifications, likely requiring months of repairs and prolonging supply disruptions, according to analysis by the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center at Rice University.

Experts say that the nation can’t count on luck alone to protect the Gulf region from future storms made more damaging due to the effects of climate change.

Climate scientists predict that current trends – rising sea levels, harder rainfalls and stronger hurricanes fueled by warmer oceans – will accelerate in coming years to hammer the Gulf Coast’s oil and chemical infrastructure. As sea level rises, floods and storm runoff will push farther inland, inundating previously safe areas and keeping some flooded areas underwater longer.

“The region is a critical component not just of U.S. but of the global energy system. And its being left comparatively undefended from a known threat is dangerously irresponsible, not just for U.S. national security but for the global stability of energy systems,” said Cleo Paskal, a former Department of Energy consultant and expert on the national security impacts of climate change.

Refineries in the Houston area account for 14 percent of U.S. refining capacity. The Port of Houston Authority estimates ship channel closures cost $300 million a day. A three-day closure caused by a barge accident in September was estimated to have cost $1 billion in lost production.

“The ship channel is probably the single most important area in terms of vulnerability and also in terms of damage impact not only in the Houston area and region but also nationally just because it is the premiere petrochemical center within the United States,” said Philip Bedient, director of Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center.  “So if it goes down even for a couple of months, all of a sudden you’re looking at tens or maybe $60 billion in damages.”

Coast Guardsmen on a routine patrol of the Houston Ship Channel's security zone in November, 2010. (Sonja Elmquist/Medill)

The fourth largest city in the U.S., Houston is home to 2.25 million people as well as more than 3,000 energy firms. It has been an international energy leader since the oil boom in the first decades of last century.

More of America’s oil imports pass through the Port of Houston than any other U.S. port. Its 25-mile ship channel complex is surrounded by chemical tanks and a dense network of pipelines that carries the fuel and chemicals out to consumers.

The effects of an oil shutdown would go far beyond the inconvenience of expensive fill-ups. A stable energy supply is vital to aspects of America’s national security:  health, welfare and a functioning economy, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s critical infrastructure overview of the energy sector.

Already, Houston has been the site of some of the nation’s worst weather.

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Disease: A top U.S. security threat Mon, 10 Jan 2011 05:04:15 +0000

Mosquitoes that transmit malaria and dengue fever are sensitive to temperature changes. These types of diseases are destabilizing regions of the world that will affect U.S. national security. (Stock.XCHNG)

By Jessica Q. Chen
Medill National Security Reporting Project

WASHINGTON – One of the most worrisome national security threats of climate change is the increased spread of disease, with potentially millions of people at risk of serious illness or death and vast numbers of animals and crops also in danger of being wiped out, U.S. intelligence and health officials say.

But more than a decade after such concerns were first raised by U.S. intelligence agencies, significant gaps remain in the health surveillance and response network—not just in developing nations, but in the United States as well, according to those officials and a review of federal documents and reports.

And those gaps, they say, undermine the ability of the U.S. and world health officials to respond to disease outbreaks before they become national security threats.

Identifying health threats

The Human Health and Working Group report details 11 disease and health consequences of climate change.

“We’re way behind the ball on this,” said Josh Michaud, who has worked at the Defense Department’s National Center for Medical Intelligence and its Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System.  “It’s a collective action problem.’’

Michaud said monitoring is done largely through the gathering of open-source medical information and mathematical modeling, but that gaps remain.

U.S. intelligence officials said the spread of disease is one of their top four climate change-related security concerns, along with food and water scarcity and the impact of extreme weather on domestic infrastructure. Outbreaks can destabilize foreign countries, especially developing nations, overtax the U.S. military and undermine social cohesion and the economy at home.

In the coming decades, more heat, humidity and rainfall will allow mosquitoes, ticks, parasites and other tropical and subtropical disease vectors to spread into new areas where people have not built up any resistance to them, the intelligence and health officials said.  Other environmental changes can spawn new infectious diseases that may be undetectable, causing new concerns, they said.

Regions in Africa and Asia already have witnessed expansions of malaria, cholera and other diseases that experts attribute to climate change. Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Cameroon have experienced cholera outbreaks in the last couple of years.  In the U.S., dengue fever returned in 2009 after a 75-year absence. A Natural Resources Defense Council study said dengue fever could spread to 28 states. (pdf) Such concerns prompted federal health officials to declare it a nationally reportable disease last January.

The United States has begun to see the potentially devastating impact on plants and animals as well. Bark beetle infestations, for instance, have ravaged forests from Alaska to the Southwest and threaten to decimate the commercial foresting industry, experts warn.

Gaps in the global system

In response, Washington has mobilized its health intelligence community to get ahead of the problem.  But the officials say obstacles remain in identifying potential threats and responding to them.

Many countries that are flashpoints for outbreaks lack the health infrastructure to detect diseases. There are also major gaps in the global health network to coordinate response efforts. And the U.S. itself has significant holes in its public safety net, in part due to budget cuts and inattention paid to the health risks of climate change.

Those are the conclusions top U.S. intelligence and health officials have made, based on interviews, reports and testimonies. And one of their biggest concerns, they say, is not knowing the true magnitude of the threat.

“There is a gap in disease surveillance to even determine the totality of the pathogens … and whether the vectors that may spread these diseases are moving into new habitats,” said Dr. Joy M. Miller, the senior global health security adviser for the National Intelligence Council, the center of strategic thinking for the CIA and other agencies within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “There are key uncertainties, including how quickly climate change will occur and the locations where the impacts will be most pronounced.’’

The U.S. intelligence community is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with its counterparts overseas, according to Miller, but there is still more to do.

“We need to improve disease monitoring, and share information and expertise,’’ particularly in developing nations, Miller said. “Without this information, new diseases can emerge and spread globally before we have time to develop vaccines or other countermeasures.”

In September 2009, the CIA created a Center on Climate Change and National Security, whose officials say countering the spread of disease is high on their agenda.

The Department of Defense also has devoted significant resources to the problem, both at the Pentagon and in the field, said Kent Hughes Butts of the Army War College, who works closely with U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials to explore links between climate change and security. One of his top concerns: that the spread of disease in developing countries is helping create “conditions that terrorists seek to exploit.’’

In December 2009, the U.S. Global Change Research Program created an interagency working group on climate change and human health. It released a report in April that identified 11 key health areas at risk from climate change.  They included diseases spread by food, water and vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks; respiratory allergies; asthma and other airway diseases; and heat-related deaths and illnesses.

As a participant in that effort, Dr. George Luber, the director of the CDC’s climate change program in the National Center for Environmental Health, said that the report didn’t prioritize the threats because it was only a starting point for federal researchers and policymakers to better understand climate’s impact on human health.

“We really haven’t gotten to the point where we can start putting even qualitative estimates on future burdens,’’ Luber said.

A decade of concerns

For generations, U.S. intelligence and military officials have kept a close eye on Africa and other hotspots where the emergence of infectious diseases could impact national security.

In 2000, the National Intelligence Council issued a formal report on global infectious diseases, and concluded that “climatic shifts’’ were likely to enable diseases like malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and cholera to spread to new areas, “and could add several million more cases in developing country regions over the next two decades.’’ (pdf)

“The persistent infections disease burden is likely to aggravate and, in some cases, may even provoke economic decay, social fragmentation, and political destabilization in the hardest hit countries in the developing and former communist worlds,’’ the National Intelligence Estimate concluded.

Eight years later, NIC Chairman Thomas Fingar told Congress that climate change could force the U.S. military to dramatically expand its humanitarian operations.

The new Africa Command “is likely to face extensive and novel operational requirements,’’ Fingar said.  “Sub-Saharan African countries—if they are hard hit by climate impacts—will be more susceptible to worsening disease exposure.”

Last year, the University College London Institute for Global Health and the respected British medical journal Lancet concluded that “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, ” and one where a coordinated public health response is “needed urgently.” (pdf)

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How does climate change affect U.S. security? Mon, 10 Jan 2011 05:04:08 +0000 h1, h1 a { margin-left: 5px; color: #000; } p { margin-left: 10px; color: #333; }

Global Warning reporters interviewed more than a dozen military leaders, experts and scientists about the effects of climate change on national security.
We asked them each the same four questions. Browse their answers:

Produced by Jessica Binsch; Videos by Malathi Nayak, Jessica Chen, Sonja Elmquist, Heather Somerville, Jacquelyn Ryan, Charles Mead and Annie Snider
Find out what people are saying about this project.
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U.S. military grasps effects of the rising tide Mon, 10 Jan 2011 05:03:39 +0000 bangladesh-main

Bangladeshi soldiers portray rebels during a live demonstration of a UN peacekeeping routine at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operations Training in Rajendrapur Cantonment, Bangladesh. The exercise was part of a conference on training for peacekeeping missions with participants from 30 countries including the United States. (Malathi Nayak/Medill)

By Malathi Nayak
Medill National Security Reporting Project

RAJENDRAPUR, Bangladesh – The sound of gunshots and wailing women and children rose above the din of a hovering helicopter one recent morning in a makeshift refugee camp in this military cantonment outside the capital of Dhaka.

Dust filled the air as Bangladeshi soldiers, deployed as United Nations peacekeepers, engaged a gang of rebels who had attacked the camp. After a long negotiation and exchange of gunfire, the rebels were captured and peace was restored.

Thunderous applause soon followed, as representatives from 30 countries watched what turned out to be a live demonstration at the Bangladesh Army’s peacekeeping training facility here.

The onlookers, including a team from the United States, were part of an ongoing effort to understand and be prepared for global security threats in conflict zones that will require peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts.

Climate change is fast becoming one of those security threats, according to U.S. and Bangladeshi officials, who have concluded it will help create new conflict hotspots around the world and heighten the tensions in existing ones—and impact the national security of the United States in the process. Moreover, climate change could overstress the U.S. military by creating frequent and intensified disasters and humanitarian crises to which it would have to respond.

Nowhere is that potential chain of events more worrisome than in Bangladesh, a country strategically sandwiched between rising superpowers China and India, and which also acts as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia.

Already, Bangladesh is beset by extreme poverty, overcrowding and flooding that frequently render large numbers of people homeless. The Muslim-majority country also has had problems with Islamist radicalization.

And over the next two generations, those problems are expected to get worse due to climate change, which worsens other problems such as food and water scarcity, extreme weather and rising seas, according to interviews with current and former officials and experts. By 2050, rising sea waters are projected to cost the low-lying country about 17 to 20 percent of its land mass, rendering at least 20 million people homeless and decimating food production of rice and wheat, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By then, its population is projected to reach more than 200 million, which could lead to internal societal unrest that spills over into neighboring India.


Retired Maj. Gen. A.N.M. Muniruzzaman says that preparing for the security challenges connected to climate change will take time. (Click to watch the video)

“That is a frightening scenario. Given the complications of conflict relations in South Asia, any destabilization of a regional border can have very severe consequences on a regional scale”, said Maj. Gen. A.N.M. Muniruzzaman, a retired Bangladeshi military officer who heads a think tank called the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.

Many displaced people already try to go into India when the flooding comes every year or so or economic opportunities run out, so much so that the New Delhi government has built a massive border fence to keep them out—and plans to electrify it.

Muniruzzaman refers to climate change as a “transnational security threat” — one that could not only push Bangladesh to the brink of state failure but potentially destabilize the rest of South Asia and draw in the U.S., because of it has the largest military in the world, to provide relief aid, humanitarian assistance and possibly peacekeeping.

“We are saying it can go into a meltdown phase, unless we have a response mechanism both at the national level and international level in place, rehearsed and solidly put into position so that it can be kicked into action very quickly,” Muniruzzaman added.

U.S. officials agree, and acknowledge that these new challenges they are contemplating would require a shift from the traditional military role of fighting wars. In response, officials say they are working to leverage their existing network of military partners around the world to grasp and deal with an expected fallout from climate change.

“It’s really up to leaders in the upper echelons of the U.S., Bangladeshi and Indian governments to discuss ways to mitigate those issues before they happen,” said Maj. Luke Donohue, who heads the office of defense co-operation at the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka. “I think that it’s beyond any one’s comprehension to deal with.”

Waking up to the threat

Last summer, the U.S. Navy conducted its first “war game” to assess its ability to respond to possible climate change-related conflicts around the world. The exercise at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., involved scientists, water specialists, climatologists, aid workers, intelligence officials, business analysts and military officers.


During a demonstration of a United Nations peacekeeping routine, children sit near a military tanker at a makeshift refugee camp.(Malathi Nayak/ Medill)

The participants were given two complex scenarios – West Africa in 2017 and South Asia from 2010 to 2050 – with a combination of existing security challenges like ethnic strife, political instability, piracy, drug trafficking, natural resource exploitation, Islamic extremism, fluctuations in the global market, terrorism and geopolitics.

Thrown into this combustible mix were the projected effects of climate change, including cycles of massive droughts and floods, mass migration, glacier melt, armed water disputes, epidemics of meningitis, bacterial encephalitis and dengue fever, large scale crop devastation and depletion of resources in fisheries.

The results sent to the Pentagon revealed gaps in the current abilities of the U.S. military, according to a report obtained by the Medill National Security Reporting Project. The report stated that the participants found the crises designed in the scenarios to be “too large in scale, scope, and complexity to be adequately addressed given the existing missions and capabilities.’’

Moreover, it said that in the context of the scenarios, the Defense Department has limited capabilities in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, airlifts, maritime intelligence, port reconstruction, communication, interagency coordination, cultural expertise and civil-military relationships.

Some questions raised by the exercise: What ships would the Navy need to provide temporary shelter and produce potable water? What investments would the Navy need to make, such as mobile desalinization plants for its ships? What assets would the Navy need to respond better?

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