A classic from the Guardian/Observer archives, from February 2004:
The article is so absurd that it hardly needs any commentary. After explaining that Britain will be Siberian by next year according to a suppressed report, it goes on to claim that the ‘findings’ of the report will embarrass the climate-denying president:
The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.
The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Climate change ‘should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern’, say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.
An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is ‘plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately’, they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.
Later on we are told more details of the catastrophes that will occur by 2020:
Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 ‘catastrophic’ shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.
Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. ‘This is depressing stuff,’ he said. ‘It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.’
Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. ‘We don’t know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,’ he said.
Of course the authors of the report, Randall and Schwartz, aren’t climate scientists. But their report gets the glowing endorsement of two leading UK climate scientists — Sir John Houghton, former boss of the Met Office and IPCC co-chair, and former IPCC chair Bob Watson:
Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office – and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism – said: ‘If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.’
Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon’s dire warnings could no longer be ignored.
‘Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It’s going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush’s single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,’ added Watson.
Hugely embarrassing indeed, but for Watson, not Bush. Why would a senior scientist like Bob Watson say that a report claiming global catastrophe by 2020 is non-wacko and should be taken seriously? Well there’s a hint that politics may be a factor, later on in the article:
So dramatic are the report’s scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush’s stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.
The fact that Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid Kerry’s cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed ‘Yoda’ by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence’s push on ballistic-missile defence.
Is it not rather worrying that the defence of the USA is in the hands of people who produce such garbage?
This Pentagon report was cited in a recent article Climate Change and National Security, Part II: How Big a Threat is the Climate?
The consequences of abrupt, severe warming for national security are obvious in general, if unclear in the specifics. In 2003, the Defense Department asked a contractor to explore such a scenario. The resulting report outlined the offensive and defensive national security strategies countries may adopt if faced with abrupt climate change, and highlighted the increased risk of inter- and intra-state conflict over natural resources and immigration. Although the report may be off in its imagined timeframe (positing abrupt climate change by 2020), the world it conjures is improbable but not outlandish.
This is a bit like the doomsday cults that say that the world is going to end this year, and then when that doesn’t happen, say it’s going to happen next year. Even more comically, a few paragraphs before acknowledging that the 2003 report got it wrong, the article claims that “Scientists can predict the consequences of climate change to 2050 with some measure of certainty”.
That article also provides a link to the Pentagon climate report by Schwartz and Randall, dated October 2003.
By looking at the report, we can see to what extent it is in itself complete nonsense, and to what extent it was misrepresented by the Observer’s journalists. As usual in the game of Climate Chinese Whispers, there’s an element of both. The report starts with a boxed disclaimer, acknowledging that “We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.” The Observer journalists Townsend and Harris quite dishonestly only quote the second half of that sentence.
thereby making it very easy for a journalist to accidentally or deliberately interpret it as a prediction.
Where did Schwartz and Randall get all this from? Did they just make it up? At the beginning, they say that they “interviewed leading climate change scientists, conducted additional research, and reviewed several iterations of the scenario with these experts.”
But who were these leading climate scientists? As far as I can see, only one climate scientist is mentioned in the report — notorious fraudster Peter Gleick.