November 11, 2012

Everything is Connected (Global Chaos Edition)

Queens, New York, after Hurricane Sandy
So much for denial. A report commissioned by the CIA and other security agencies confronts head on what our political leaders are afraid to mention: The various forms of chaos that will be unleashed by global warming. 

Among developments the report says that the nation's defense and intelligence establishments need to prepare for, according to the New York Times:

  • large populations displaced by flood and famine,
  • rampant spread of disease,
  • increasing conflict over decreasing resources,
  • relief agencies overwhelmed by the scope and scale of need, and
  • the necessity of military action to curb violence or protect vital interests.

The report predicts that global warming will impose what the Times describes as "unparalleled strains" on government resources in the coming years. These strains will be the result of "more frequent but unpredictable crises in water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains and public health systems."

The National Research Council, which the Times calls "the nation’s top scientific research group," produced the report. It was originally to be presented to intelligence officials on the day Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, but had to be delayed because the federal government was shut down. Lead author John D. Steinbruner told the Times that Sandy provided a preview of the sorts of disruptions we can expect to see more of in the future. 

"You can debate the specific contribution of global warming to that storm," he said. "But we’re saying climate extremes are going to be more frequent, and this was an example of what they could mean. We’re also saying it could get a whole lot worse than that.” 

Post-Sandy repairs, Bronx, New York
The report says the U.S. military is not taking adequate steps to prepare for the disruptions that are expected to occur. It specifically warns of the collapse of "globally integrated systems that provide for human well-being." That's a reference to a condition I've written about frequently in this space, "technological autonomy," a shorthand way of describing the fact that nations around the world are now utterly dependent on massively complex, tightly coupled technological systems that are highly vulnerable to chain-reaction breakdowns.

The Times article ends by noting that even as the urgency of preparing for global warming has grown, the willingness of politicians to provide the funding necessary to do so has declined. 

"Everything is Connected" is a recurring feature named in honor of the late Barry Commoner's four laws of ecology: Everything is connected to everything else, everything must go somewhere, nature knows best, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. 

Photo Credits: Queens destruction: Spencer Platt - AFP/Getty Images; Bronx power lines: Don Emmert - AFP/Getty Images.

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