Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 23, 2010

DHS Thinking Ahead Regarding Climate Change

Filed under: Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on December 23, 2010

Just when I get close to the point of absolute frustration with the near total reactionary nature of DHS policy, a small bit of news appears to cheer me up.  Per the Homeland Security Newswire:

DHS has a new task force to battle the effects of climate change on domestic security operations; DHS secretary Janet Napolitano explained that the task force was charged with “identifying and assessing the impact that climate change could have on the missions and operations of the Department of Homeland Security”

While I personally believe in the danger of human-influenced climate change, what is most heartening about this DHS initiative is that it is truly forward looking.  Very little of the Department’s policies seem to fall in this category.  Instead, we are treated to security measures that deal with the last threat.  Though in all fairness, I was aware of some nascent FEMA efforts directed toward understanding potential climate change impacts:

The study, undertaken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the insurance program, aims to determine how seawater will surge onto shorelines around the United States as warming oceans expand and rise. It also seeks to establish how warming temperatures will affect inland flooding nationwide, potentially revealing the likelihood of more damage in some riverine areas.

I understand there is already backlash from some corners regarding the fact that DHS is even considering the possibility of climate change as something that will impact their operations.  As a pre-emptive rebuttal, I would just like to point out that this is something mature departments should do–for example, the Pentagon was already considering potential climate impacts on their operations during the Bush Administration:

Global warming may be bad news for future generations, but let’s face it, most of us spend as little time worrying about it as we did about al Qaeda before 9/11. Like the terrorists, though, the seemingly remote climate risk may hit home sooner and harder than we ever imagined. In fact, the prospect has become so real that the Pentagon’s strategic planners are grappling with it.

In sum, the risk of abrupt climate change remains uncertain, and it is quite possibly small. But given its dire consequences, it should be elevated beyond a scientific debate. Action now matters, because we may be able to reduce its likelihood of happening, and we can certainly be better prepared if it does. It is time to recognize it as a national security concern.

The Pentagon’s reaction to this sobering report isn’t known—in keeping with his reputation for reticence, Andy Marshall declined to be interviewed. But the fact that he’s concerned may signal a sea change in the debate about global warming. At least some federal thought leaders may be starting to perceive climate change less as a political annoyance and more as an issue demanding action.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 23, 2010 @ 4:04 am

Andy Marshall is a NATIONAL TREASURE and should be so designated. At least as long as he lives, some signs of intelligent life persist at DOD!

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