Hobgoblins Are Poor Policy Drivers

The late journalist H L Mencken once wrote that the whole aim of practical politics is to menace the populace with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of which are imaginary. Several decades later, the former Librarian of the Library of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, wrote that more and more illusions dominate our lives and that extravagant expectations led to the “demand for the illusions with which we deceive ourselves.” Boorstin also observed that we had reached the point of testing reality against illusions instead of testing illusions against reality.

Assertions by the Obama Administration and DOD think tanks that climate change is a national security threat demonstrate the validity of Mencken’s and Boorstin’s insights. Claims in the just released National Security Strategy, such as “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” are simply bogus and reflect the desperation of this Administration to find some argument that will help it advance its reckless energy agenda. It is a case of throwing enough stuff on the wall until something sticks.

In 2012, The George C Marshall Institute issued a report Climate and National Security: Exploring the Connection that addressed the types of claims included in the Strategy document. The report pointed out that speculating about forces that will shape future US security is intellectually stimulating but, over the long range, are little more than guesses. Forecasts made over the course of the last several decades about the state of the world have proven to be flawed as current conditions now prove.

The presumed linkage between human caused climate change and conflict is not only weak but dependent on assumptions about the future state of the environment and the cause of conflict. Based on a review of the relevant literature, the Marshall Institute concluded “four features of the climate-security issue argue against it becoming anything other than an intellectual exercise in…planning.” Those four are:

-“There is no empirical proof for the causal connections between climate change and conflict.

-There are many alternative causes of conflict.

-There is a mismatch of planning horizons. The scenarios depicting the impacts of climate change run 20…or 100 years or more before demonstrable affects are manifest.

-There is an assumption of static U.S. interests. … (assuming) U.S. interest remain unchanged and further assume that the U.S. remains actively engaged and enmeshed.”

The environmental security aspect of defense planning dates back to the mid 90s. Since then armed forces have been used as instruments of humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, the increased use of armed forces for humanitarian assistance has taken place without clarity about what constitutes our national interests.

In the early 2000s, futurist Peter Schwartz produced a report for DOD that argued that abrupt climate change would “potentially de-stabilize the geopolitical environment, leading to skirmishes, battles, and even war due to resource constraints.” That was followed by work by the Center for Naval Analyses which accepts that the hypothesis of human induced climate change and then concludes that “climate change (is) a threat multiplier for instability that threatens to add new hostile and stressing factors “ to the international security environment.

Marshall points out that “the climate-conflict hypothesis …is linked together in a chain. … and each link must be accepted as true … for the argument to be valid.” The Marshall review identified nine problems in the methodologies used and a critical review of the literature led Nils Petter Gleditsch to conclude that the state of the study of environmental causes of conflict was weak at best.

Marshall concluded that the evidence to support the climate-conflict claim is probably non-existent and that the security consequences of environmental factors “are more likely to induce nation work cooperatively.” In summary, Marshall also concluded that the “climate-security argument is dangerously overstated and designed to serve a domes political purpose more than filling a void in strategic thinking.” To put it bluntly, the argument is just another hobgoblin!

More important, the claims about human induced climate change are a hypothesis that has yet to be scientifically validated. It reflects an intentional distortion about carbon dioxide and rests on the illusion of steadily increasing temperatures that are not.


This article appeared on the National Journal’s Energy Insiders weblog at https://disqus.com/by/wokeefe/

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