›August 31, 2009 // By Wilson Center StaffAs the impacts of climate change on national security are beginning to receive attention at the highest levels of government, climate-security experts must avoid oversimplifying these complex connections, said Geoff Dabelko, director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“Today, with climate change high on the political agenda, powerful actors in the security community are assessing its potentially dangerous effects on conflict and military readiness,” Dabelko said. In “Planning for Climate Change: The Security Community’s Precautionary Principle” in the journal Climatic Change, Dabelko views the defense community’s interest in climate change as an understandable development. “Climate change poses threats and opportunities that any risk analysis calculation should take seriously—including the military’s planning efforts, such as the Quadrennial Defense Review,” he says.
“However, it is important to remember that in the mid-1990s, advocates oversold our understanding of environmental links to security, creating a backlash that ultimately undermined policymakers’ support for meeting the very real connections between environment and conflict head-on. Today, ‘climate security’ is in danger of becoming merely a political argument that understates the complexity of climate’s security challenges.”
In a new op-ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dabelko offers some advice to scientists, politicians, and the media:
- Don’t oversimplify the links between climate change and violent conflict or terrorism.
- Don’t neglect ongoing natural resource and conflict problems.
- Don’t assume we know the precise scale and location of climate-induced migration.
- Don’t forget that climate mitigation efforts can introduce social conflict and needs to be factored into both mitigation and adaptation efforts.
›“The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution,” write Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in the lead article of this Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine.
In this special issue devoted to “Saving the World’s Women,” five articles document global failures and personal horrors, but also offer forward-looking solutions from the individual to the institutional. As the subtitle says—“changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything”— this vital effort can help us not only improve the lives of women, but meet larger goals including international security, global health, and economic development.
In “The Women’s Crusade,” Pulitzer Prize-winners Kristof and WuDunn, whose new book Half the Sky will be published on September 8, outline the ways in which the world’s women and girls are abused, neglected, and overlooked. They use devastating data to detail how women around the world suffer from lack of education, maternal mortality, sexual violence, trafficking, and economic and political oppression, and then bring these figures to life with women’s personal stories.
They argue that elevating women is not a “soft” issue, but rather has the power to transform economies and address security threats—a point echoed in an interview with Hillary Clinton, in which she calls women and girls “a core factor in our foreign policy.”
“I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress,” says Clinton, long an informed and passionate advocate for global women’s issues. She encouraged President Obama to create a new ambassadorship for global women’s issues, and filled the opening with Melanne Verveer, a respected activist and former head of the Vital Voices Global Partnership.
Clinton most strongly emphasizes the connection between women’s issues and national security, calling it “an absolute link”: “If you look at where we are fighting terrorism, there is a connection to groups that are making a stand against modernity, and that is most evident in their treatment of women.” She goes so far as to agree that spending taxpayer money on education and healthcare for girls and women in Pakistan would be more effective than military aid to the country.
“A woman who is safe enough in her own life to invest in her children and see them go to school is not going to have as many children. The resource battles over water and land will be diminished,” she says. “And it’s an issue of how we take hard power and soft power, so called, and use it to advance not just American ends but, in advancing global progress, we are making the world safer for our own children.”
Also in the magazine:
The New York Times’ website adds a slide show of Katy Grannan’s portraits of women in South Asia and Africa, and launches a contest soliciting personal stories from the field. Submit your photos and blog posts to Kristof’s blog by September 19.
- Dexter Filkins investigates the acid attacks on girl students in Afghanistan in the horrifyingly vivid storytelling he displayed in his best-seller, The Forever War.
- Lisa Belkin takes note of an emerging generation of female philanthropists using their money to “deliberately and systematically to aid women in need,” spurred by the Hunt sisters’ “Women Moving Millions” campaign.
- Tina Rosenberg describes how sex-selective abortion and inadequate health care for young girls has led to a “daughter deficit” in China and India, where, somewhat paradoxically, “development can worsen, not improve, traditional discrimination.”
- Africa’s first female President, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, tells NYT that if women ran the world, it would be “better, safer and more productive.”
To me, such vital voices are the most powerful, proving that the personal is political. The quotes in the lead article from academic studies, local NGO personnel, and women themselves map the way forward:
- “When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves” – Esther Duflo of MIT, on micro-finance.
- “Girls are just as good as boys” – An unidentified man who once beat his wife for not having sons, but changed his mind when a micro-loan turned her into the family breadwinner.
- “Gender inequality hurts economic growth” – Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper, 2008
- “I can’t talk about my children’s education when I’m not educated myself … If I educate myself, then I can educate my children” – Terarai Trent, a Zimbabwean woman now completing a PhD in the United States.
›Christian Aid’s “Growing Pains: The Possibilities and Problems of Biofuels” finds that “huge subsidies and targets in developed countries for boosting the production of fuels from plants such as maize and palm oil are exacerbating environmental and social problems in poor nations.”
Framing the climate change debate in terms of national security could help advance climate legislation in Congress, argues a New York Times editorial, one week after its front-page article on the topic. In letters to the editor, James Morin of Operation FREE calls climate change the “ultimate destabilizer,” and retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn warned that the “repercussions of these changes are not as far off as one would think.”
Researchers at Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center found that climate change could deepen poverty, especially in urban areas of developing countries, by increasing food prices. “While those who work in agriculture would have some benefit from higher grains prices, the urban poor would only get the negative effects.” Of the 16 countries studied, “Bangladesh, Mexico and Zambia showed the greatest percentage of the population entering poverty in the wake of extreme drought.”
India’s 2009 State of the Environment Report finds that almost half of the country’s land is environmentally degraded, air pollution is increasing, and biodiversity is decreasing. In addition, the report points out that almost 700 million rural people—more than half the country’s population—are directly dependent on climate-sensitive resources for their subsistence and livelihoods. And furthermore, “the adaptive capacity of dry land farmers, forest dwellers, fisher folk and nomadic shepherds is very low.”
Surveys completed by a Cambodian national indigenous peoples network find that “five million hectares of land belonging to indigenous minority peoples [have] been appropriated for mining and agricultural land concessions in the past five years,” reports the Phnom Penh Post.
The Economic Report on Africa 2009 warns that despite declining food prices, “many African countries continue to suffer from food shortage and food insecurity due to drought, conflicts and rigid supply conditions among other factors.”
›A response to Bjørn Lomborg’s “Climate engineering: It’s cheap and effective”
The famous mathematician John von Neumann called climate engineering a “thoroughly ‘abnormal’ industry,” arguing that large-scale interventions, including solar radiation management, were not necessarily rational undertakings and could have “rather fantastic effects” on a scale difficult to imagine. Tinkering with the Earth’s heat budget or the atmosphere’s general circulation, he said, “will merge each nation’s affairs with those of every other, more thoroughly than the threat of a nuclear or any other war may already have done”—and possibly leading to “forms of climatic warfare as yet unimagined.”
Almost four decades later, Yale economist William Nordhaus used geoengineering scenarios in his dynamic integrated climate economy (DICE) model to calculate the balance between economic growth (or decline) and climate change, as part of a 1992 National Academy of Sciences study on the policy implications of greenhouse warming. Calling geoengineering a hypothetical technology that could “provide costless mitigation of climate change,” Nordhaus came to the controversial conclusion that geoengineering produces major benefits, whereas emissions stabilization and climate stabilization are projected to be worse than inaction. He believes that geoengineering is, at present, “the only economically competitive technology to offset global warming.”
Bjørn Lomborg, trained in political theory and notorious for attempting “to redirect global priorities away from current environmental concerns,” downplayed climate change in his first book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. He has now changed his tone, admitting in a Globe and Mail op-ed that “global warming means more people will die from the heat”—and advocating the apparent cost-effectiveness of planetary climate engineering. In his op-ed, he presents dichotomous choices that are not mutually exclusive: Shall we plant trees? Cut emissions? Adapt? Or “focus on a technological solution to warming?”
Isn’t it more reasonable to pursue the first three strategies simultaneously, with new energy technologies and efficiencies? As MIT atmospheric scientist Ron Prinn said, “How can you engineer a system whose behavior you don’t understand?”
Lomborg’s article cites an un-refereed economic analysis by Eric Bickel and Lee Lane that reaches the same conclusion as Nordhaus did in 1992 by tinkering with his DICE model. Climate modeler Alan Robock calls their work “a biased economic analysis of geoengineering,” and warns that solar radiation management would cause increased damage to the stratospheric ozone layer and may in fact shut down the Indian monsoon. Any reduction in the sun’s direct radiation will cripple solar power generators and turn the blue sky milky white, even on a “clear” day. Since this type of geoengineering would also block starlight, it would mark the end of ground-based astronomy and the end of stargazing as we know it; only the brightest stars would remain visible in the night sky.
The “tiny investment” in climate engineering Lomborg is advocating as an alternative to carbon emission reductions means the oceans would continue to acidify by absorbing carbon dioxide. I don’t have enough space to critique the plan to create a post-modern El Niño with 1,900 robotic ships in the Pacific Ocean spraying sea-water mist.
In the 1830s the meteorologist James Espy was laughed out of Congress for proposing a $1:$2,000 cost/benefit ratio for making “artificial volcanoes” to enhance rainfall. He wanted to set fire to the Eastern deciduous forests, but he had not taken into account the indirect costs. Neither has Lomborg or his economists.
At a recent National Academy of Science meeting on geoengineering, planetary scientist Brian Toon told the audience that we don’t have the technology to engineer the planet. I added that we don’t have the wisdom either. Global climate engineering is untested and untestable, and dangerous beyond belief.
James Rodger Fleming, a former Wilson Center Fellow, is a historian of science and technology at Colby College and author of Fixing the Sky, soon to be released by Columbia University Press.
›I have a few responses to Will Rogers’ thoughtful critique of my report, “Military vs. Climate Security: Mapping the Shift from the Bush Years to the Obama Era.”
Rogers says that “the report could be read as inferring that the Department of Defense (DoD) has an unnecessarily oversized budget”: that’s true. I think a single country that spends 43 percent of the world’s total military budget—more than the next 14 countries put together—and whose spending has nearly doubled since FY 2000 to the highest level in real terms since World War II, could find some ways to provide for the common defense with less money.
Rogers rightly points to the Obama administration’s efforts to cut the budget, citing the cancellation of the F-22. The administration has proposed the most ambitious set of cuts to unneeded weapons systems since the end of the Cold War. However, it has not proposed reinvesting some of the savings in averting climate change. Given the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of climate change as a major global security threat, and the enlarged role the Department of Defense is assigning to this threat in their strategic planning, it should.
Rogers is concerned that my accounting of climate-change expenditures omitted some of DoD’s spending. This is a valid point, but I wanted to avoid double-counting. I used DoD’s own figures for its budget total, which would include, for example, DARPA’s budget. I tried to solve the problem by acknowledging DoD’s efforts, and providing a table of examples from all service branches. Maybe a better way to solve the double-counting problem would be to add a new category to capture military expenditures on climate change, including personnel costs, and deduct it from the other two.
Overall, Rogers’ real concern seems to be what he calls the “conceptual error” of contrasting military security with climate security. My point is that while the U.S. military is taking steps to reduce its emissions, its main job is to solve problems through military force. And it is warning that the problem of climate change is going to make this job much harder. As the intelligence services are telling them, either solve this problem by stemming rising global temperatures, or prepare to grow the military—a lot—to deal with the effects. It’s the old story of an ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure.
I am baffled at Rogers’ claim that pointing this out “makes climate change more like a domestic policy issue and less like a legitimate national security concern.” My point is that this legitimate national security concern needs more resources, and is best addressed largely by means other than military force.
The good news is that the Obama administration is about to release its own climate change budget, probably by the end of August. It will account for spending from both the Recovery Act and the regular budget, as mine does. It will undoubtedly be a more accurate accounting than mine, though it will not capture some categories I believe should count as climate-change spending, such as new allocations for mass transit.
My accounting of the relative balance of military versus climate security spending could certainly use refining, and I thank Rogers for helping me think through how to do this.
Miriam Pemberton, Ph.D. is a research fellow with the Foreign Policy In Focus Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her latest report is “Military vs. Climate Security: Mapping the Transition from the Bush Years to the Obama Era.”
›August 18, 2009 // By Geoff Dabelko
De Souza, whom I interviewed recently about his contribution to ECSP’s Focus series, is a great storyteller. Whether recounting his conversations with a tsunami survivor in Thailand, a mayor of a small Filipino community, or a Tanzanian journalist, De Souza brings to life their daily struggles to meet basic needs. His tales are packed with lessons for development practitioners tackling multiple and overlapping challenges in poor rural communities.
“When I see communities have a better understanding of how these issues interact and have an impact on their lives, they become very energized, and very enthusiastic and want to make a difference,” De Souza told me.
His latest article, “The Integration Imperative: How to Improve Development Programs by Linking Population, Health, and Environment,” summarizes the advantages of integration. “PHE offers a step in the right direction—a flexible, innovative way for policies and programs to keep pace with today’s rapidly changing world—and lays the foundation for empowering our children to manage these changes for generations to come.”
“Knowing is not enough; you must act and let your government know that family planning is a right and saves lives,” said Maurice Middleberg of the Global Health Council at a recent event in Chapel Hill.
The other panelists at “How Can Family Planning Efforts Help Us Achieve the Millennium Development Goals?” (Dr. Martha Carlough of UNC, Dr. Ward Cates of Family Health International, and Pape Gaye of IntraHealth International) all provided compelling statistics demonstrating the effectiveness of family planning as an intervention that addresses the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
MDGs 4, 5, and 6 – reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, respectively – all have obvious connections to health and woman’s reproductive health. An unmet need for family planning, which is measured as the percentage of women of reproductive age who desire to space or limit their births but are not using contraception, can undermine the achievement of these goals.
For example, very early motherhood not only increases the risk of dying in childbirth, it also jeopardizes the well-being of surviving mothers—and their children, too. A child born to an adolescent mother has a greater risk of dying in infancy or childhood.
“Contraception is the best-kept secret in HIV prevention,” said Dr. Cates, who cited research that found that “current contraceptive use in sub-Saharan Africa prevents an estimated 577,200 unplanned births to HIV-infected mothers” and thus prevents the birth of an estimated 173,000 HIV-infected infants each year.
Family planning can help meet the other MDGs, including ending poverty and hunger (Goal 1); providing universal primary education (Goal 2); and promoting gender equity (Goal 3). Young mothers frequently miss out on education and socio-economic opportunities. Being able to make their own decisions about family planning and reproductive health can empower women and improve gender equity. When women are given equal opportunities for education, health, and employment, they are more likely to invest in the education and care of their children. This helps them break the cycle of poverty, hunger, and disease.
Although the MDGS don’t include any formal targets for sexual and reproductive health, the UN Millennium Project has stated that the MDGs cannot be achieved in low-income countries without access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning. The panelists agreed that family planning is a cost-effective intervention that provides broader positive benefits for development.
But the real strength of their presentations lay in the personal stories behind the statistics. Middleberg closed the discussion with a story about a woman in Latin America who told him that she loves her husband but was afraid of him every time he touched her. Now, after having undergone sterilization, she no longer worries and can love her husband with no fear of becoming pregnant.
A mother of six interviewed in a 2009 news article about the Philippines’ new family planning bill said, “How can one keep on having children? We don’t earn enough to feed them, much less send them to school.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof interviews a Haitian woman with 10 children in a dramatic video interview, “Saving Lives with Family Planning.”
Underlying all of these facts and stories is the belief that one’s health and well-being, including access to family planning, is a right. But as Middleberg said, believing is not enough.
EngenderHealth, an international reproductive health organization working to improve the quality of health care in the world’s poorest communities, is asking Americans to create a video explaining why we should care about international family planning. Contribute your thoughts on YouTube’s Video Volunteers project.
Lisa Basalla, MPH, is a research associate with the Carolina Population Center. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a MPH focusing on reproductive and adolescent health. She has worked with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communications Programs on its reproductive health knowledge management project as well as a HIV-prevention behavior change communication project in Malawi.
Photo: A billboard promoting family planning in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. Courtesy flickr user olerousing.
›The Population Reference Bureau’s 2009 World Population Data Sheet shows that global population numbers will reach 7 billion in 2011. Among its key findings, PRB notes that “population growth is one root cause of increases in global greenhouse gas emissions. But the complexity of the mechanisms through which demographic factors affect emissions is not fully taken into consideration in many analyses that influence governments’ climate change mitigation efforts.”
The Guardian reports that U.S. marines have launched an energy audit of American military operations in Afghanistan, the first such assessment to take place in a war zone. “Some 80% of US military casualties in Afghanistan are due to improvised explosive devices (IEDS),” the article elaborates, “and many of those placed in the path of supply convoys.” DoD’s Alan Shaffer recently told ClimateWire, “nearly three-quarters of what convoys move in Afghanistan’s treacherous terrain is fuel or water.”
The Department of State released an inspection of the operations of the Bureau of African Affairs that identifies a rift between U.S. diplomats and the U.S. military’s recently established African Command (AFRICOM). As the Wilson Center’s Steve McDonald told Bloomberg.com, “It got off to a hugely bad start…Part of it was tied up with policies of the Bush era, where our own security concerns far overrode any sensitivities to local considerations.”
T. Paul Shultz of Yale University’s Economic Growth Center evaluates population and health policies, looking specifically at “the causal relationships between economic development, health outcomes, and reproductive behavior.”
Oxfam’s “The Future is Here: Climate Change in the Pacific” includes recommendations for adapting and mitigating climate change in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific island nations—a region “where half the population lives within 1.5 kilometers of the sea.”
Join the Conversation
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- The Precarious State of Our Oceans Thursday, February 19, 2015
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