Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 7, 2010

An inconvenient truth about homeland security bandwidth

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on January 7, 2010

I don’t know about you, but my available homeland security bandwidth is quickly reaching its capacity.

By bandwidth (in this context) I mean “the amount of information that can be passed through a communications channel in a given amount of time.”

The communication channel in this instance is my brain — to included what comes in, how it’s processed, and what happens as a result.

The information is anything having to do with homeland security (stuffed most recently by the buffet of post Flight 253, post top-stories-of-the-year-in-homeland-security offerings).

The given amount of time is … well, I guess my life.

So the bandwidth needle is moving to red.  Which is not a good thing.

Now along comes Mark Chubb’s post yesterday on climate change.

I know nothing about climate change.  I know that some people (many people?) think it’s a big deal.  Another group (fewer people?) don’t think it is.  I know there are international reports that say the sky is falling, or at least melting.  And I vaguely recall seeing something about some hacked emails that may demonstrate people who should have known better may or may not have cooked the data to show there was more of a climate change problem than there actually is. Or something like that.

And that’s about the extent of my climate change knowledge.

Except that I avoided seeing  Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth because I heard it was mostly powerpoint, and I’d been in a meeting with Mr. Gore once when he was vice president and the memory of that experience, plus powerpoint, plus a dark room to watch the powerpoint presentation….

My point is one makes choices about how to use one’s cognitive bandwidth, and when it comes to homeland security, I try to reserve most of the space for terrorism, WMDs, catastrophes, pandemics, and other fairly traditional homeland security subjects.

It might be time for me to do some reconsidering.  I need to either get more bandwidth or reprioritize how I use my spectrum.

I made the “mistake” of clicking on the 4 links Mark provided yesterday.

CNA Analysis & Solutions

“Eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals…” say the nation can’t wait around for perfect science to show up.  The potential consequence of even some of the climate change projections “poses a serious threat to America’s national security.”

These generals and admirals who have spent their careers defending the nation, and who probably have lots better to do than sing Kumbaya with tree huggers, say this climate change is serious stuff.  And we haven’t even talked yet about the disturbingly named “Abrupt Climate Change.”

Council on Foreign Relations

“National security extends well beyond protecting the homeland against armed attack by other states, and indeed, beyond threats from people who purposefully seek to damage or destroy states. Phenomena like … climate change, despite lacking human intentionality, can threaten national security. For example, the 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) notes … that “environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis … may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.” Like armed attacks, some of the effects of climate change could swiftly kill or endanger large numbers of people and cause such large-scale disruption that local public health, law enforcement, and emergency response units would not be able to contain the threat.”

Pew Center on Global Climate Change

” America faces a shifting strategic landscape in which rising demand for natural resources (e.g., fossil energy, water, food) increasingly drives national priorities and shapes international relationships. Since climate change affects the distribution and availability of critical natural resources, it can act as a “threat multiplier” by causing mass migrations and exacerbating conditions that can lead to social unrest and armed conflict. Today, drought, thirst, and hunger are exacerbating the conflicts and humanitarian disasters in Darfur and Somalia, and climate change portends more situations like these…. Climate change is likely to generate many more natural disasters, forcing the U.S. military and its civilian leadership to make ever more difficult strategic decisions….  As is the case today, America will not be able to help everyone.”

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

From the statement by James M. Inhofe, Republican senator from Oklahoma, at a July 30, 2009 hearing:

“Obviously, we differ about the credibility of the science used in your reports—and we differ about some of the report’s conclusions based on that science. But that’s not what my focus is today. Instead, I’m going to stipulate that the central finding in your reports—that climate change poses serious national security threats—is true. I’m even going to stipulate that all of the science informing your reports is true.”

To be fair to Senator Inhofe, I should also quote his January 4, 2005 senate speech on the same topic:

As I said on the Senate floor on July 28, 2003, “much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.” I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people….”  I also pointed out, … that those same environmental extremists exploit the issue for fundraising purposes, …. For these groups, the issue of catastrophic global warming is not just a favored fundraising tool. In truth… [for the extremists] man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith. Therefore contending that its central tenets are flawed is, to them, heresy of the most despicable kind. Furthermore, scientists who challenge its tenets are attacked … for blindly ignoring the so-called “scientific consensus.” But that’s not all: because of their skeptical views, they are contemptuously dismissed for being “out of the mainstream.” This is, it seems to me, highly ironic: aren’t scientists supposed to be non-conforming and question consensus? Nevertheless, it’s not hard to read between the lines: “skeptic” and “out of the mainstream” are thinly veiled code phrases, meaning anyone who doubts alarmist orthodoxy is, in short, a quack.

Well, ok, but at least for the purposes of the hearing Inhofe, did “… stipulate that the central finding in your reports—that climate change poses serious national security threats—is true.”

So, if admirals and analysts, and senators and strategists say climate change is important to the security of the nation, perhaps I should reconsider how I’m allocating my homeland security bandwidth.

I think I’ll spend less time reading about how Flight 253 almost brought America to its knees and see if Netflix has any movies about inconvenient truths.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 7, 2010 @ 5:08 am

Personally you seem to have plenty of bandwidth to me. But hey it is a confusing complicated world. I have two problems with the labeling of climate change as a national security issue. First few of those doing so really are scientists and mostly military or civilian bureacrats who are trying to expand their agendas and dominance for resources. Sorry but there is a direct conflict of interest on this score. Climate Change is an issue for the Scientists and those who understand science. The blatant disregard for science in last few administrations has been awful to watch. Not sure that all the Science Advisors can be up to a Vannevar Bush or Frank Press but still we need more impact by science on the Presidents and their administrations. It would help if science derived programs were under the jurisdiction of the science committees in the House and Senate. And probably should re-establish OTA ASAP. Congress is traveling blind on science right now. The intersection of Science and Technology and policy is complicated and personally I have forsworn climatology and its issues on several blogs and list-serves I participate in regularly. Will now do so here. If the national security state is going to take on big new issues caused by not science but technology and even demographics perhaps they should be hiring more persons literate in those areas. What I do find fascinating is how DOD and the Armed Forces discriminate and don’t hire professionals from certain disciplines that I would argue have more immediate impact on military policy and operations. These include social workers to support those citizens and non-citizens actually in the US military. And among other anthropologists that could explain some of the culture morass into which we have injected our troops in the world of ISLAM and elsewhere. In other words there are many disciplines ignored by the so-called Defense Science Board, largely dominated in the past by the nuclear priesthood, that could be harnessed before DOD involves itself and inevitably warps the climate change and climatology science. Hey, despite what some think the US is subject to vulcanism, earthquakes, and other natural events. Perhaps relocation of some vulnerable DOD facilities might improve national resilience.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 7, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

Chris (and Mark):

In addition to Mark’s very helpful list, you might glance at “The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning” by James Lovelock or the November review of same entitled “The Great Jump to Disaster” (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23387). It does grab one’s attention.

Some thoughts on the bandwidth problem and setting priorities: In 1975 I was quoted in the New York Times pushing hard for us — all of us — to take seriously the Club of Rome’s study on the Limits to Growth(www.clubofrome.org/docs/limits.rtf).

In those pre-PowerPoint days I had a slide show that animated what “exponential” means and its scary implications for economic, ecological, and other outcomes based on dynamic systems work at MIT and the Club of Rome.

I was “evangelizing” from Torrance to Toronto for energy conservation, energy innovation, changing our diets, reconceiving our supply chains, et cetera. I was trying to sound like Bill Buckley, but you might read transcripts of my speeches and decide I was playing precursor for Al Gore.

Thirty-five years later you can read the Limits to Growth and, perhaps, conclude it was simply ahead of its time. Maybe it’s predictions will still emerge as horribly true. But back in the late seventies I was youthfully confident that the worst results would, by today, have already come to pass. Given what we did NOT do over the last three decades, I would have predicted a much worse condition than we have in early 2010.

So… I don’t have much confidence in my ability to specifically predict the future. I am especially skeptical of a tendency, in myself or others, to be sure of the direction or speed of fundamental change. I have considerable respect for the innate ability of large systems to self-correct. This should not be heard as suggesting self-correction will come without cost or consequence.

It makes sense to recognize the dangers of hubris — small and large scale. It makes sense to do what we can today, where we are at, with the resources we have available to engage in sustainable and resilient habits. It makes sense to turn-off the television and avoid contentious personalities. It makes sense to recall what history and literature — not to speak of psychology and political science — tell us of human realities.

There are clear benefits to giving persistent and practical attention to what is good and beautiful; considering how what is good and beautiful might bring us a bit closer to what is true. We ought to share our findings with one another and work together to expand the scope of the good and beautiful.

None of this will ensure we will avoid disaster, but if enough of us are living consistently in this way I expect our chances of survival will improve and, besides, we are more likely to find the journey itself meaningful.

Thanks for your good work. Re-reading this riff, I hestitate to click submit, but in any case, Happy New Year.


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