Ira Chernus  



If you want to know the prospects for major climate change in the years ahead, ask the Pentagon. They have to figure out how to fight and win, wherever the president sends them. And they always ask the same question first: What’s the weather like out there? If the forecasters say, "Weather uncertain," smart soldiers plan for every eventuality.

As Thom Hartmann told readers the other day, weather forecasters are giving us the biggest "Uncertain" in history. They say that there might, just might, be a catastrophic climate change in the next few decades. Global warming might suddenly trigger a massive global cooling.

They’ve heard this forecast in the Pentagon, too. So they are drawing up contingencies plans for the worst case scenario: a long era of deep freeze, raging storms, and massive drought that leaves billions of people struggling for the necessities of life.

This is no secret. Fortune magazine just published a summary of the report. What you can read there may seem perfectly sensible or perfectly insane. It all depends on your basic assumptions.

The Pentagon planners assume that the future cannot be any different from the past. "History shows that whenever humans have faced a choice between starving or raiding, they raid." So we must assume that, after the great climate change, "an ancient pattern reemerges: the eruption of desperate, all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies. … Warfare may again come to define human life." In the past, the report notes, wars killed about 25% of each side’s adult males. This time, though, a dozen or more nations might have nuclear weapons, and "nuclear arms proliferation is inevitable."

But is anything in human life "inevitable"? Couldn’t we decide to do it different this time? Why not start planning for global cooperation rather than competition? Apparently, this possibility is off the Pentagon’s radar screen. In the past, scarcity usually made nations compete, not cooperate. Safest to bet that the future will be just like the past.

Is that crazy? Or is it just common sense?

Of course, what looks crazy in one place can look like common sense somewhere else. If you are in a weak little country, hunkering down to weather the global storm might seem crazy. But this is the greatest military power in world history talking.

The Pentagon report does say we should "explore ways to offset abrupt cooling." But that is only a minor theme. Mostly it urges us to take care of Number One and keep the U.S. Number One, through an era of death and suffering beyond our wildest imaginings.

"The U.S. is better positioned to cope than most nations," the report says reassuringly. The U.S. has more "wealth, technology, and abundant resources" (not to mention military hardware). "That has a downside, though: It magnifies the haves-vs.-have-nots gap and fosters bellicose finger-pointing at America."

Finger-pointing is the least of it, in the Pentagon’s vision of a catastrophic future: "Turning inward, the U.S. effectively seeks to build a fortress around itself to preserve resources." U.S. borders are "strengthened to hold back starving immigrants from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean islands -- waves of boat people pose especially grim problems." 9/11/01 might look like a picnic by comparison.

We will have to become a tough, even heartless, and well-armed nation. The report calls this the "no regrets" strategy "to ensure our national security." In the back rooms of the Pentagon they probably call it the "fuck you, sucker" strategy.

Fear not, though. The strategy works. The U.S. survives, the report concludes, "without catastrophic losses." Well, naturally. What did you think? After all, we are the US of A.

It may seem crazy to deny reality with so much at stake. But the fantasy of security is irresistible, because we are so deeply mired in our old-fashioned assumptions: life is nation against nation; every nation takes care of its own; the U.S. has a special destiny in world history; the U.S., above all others, must protect its own security to lead the global recovery.

If you stick with these old-fashioned assumptions, it all seems quite sensible. The world is divided up into nations, and the U.S. is just looking out for itself, like every other nation. Hasn’t it always been that way?

Well, no. In fact, the nation-state as we know it is only a few hundred years old. The horrific wars of the 20th century might have taught us that splitting the world up into armed nation-states was a bad idea, an experiment that failed. Since most of us didn’t get the message, we could take the specter of catastrophic climate change as another chance to learn.

Climate change is so dangerous precisely because there are no borders in nature. What happens in Shanghai affects the weather in Baltimore. Nature is one huge interactive system. A cold front in Canada doesn’t go to war against a warm front in Cuba. The Gulf Stream doesn’t go to war against El Nino.

When you take the global view that nature insists on, the idea of any one nation planning a "no regrets" strategy, or even worrying about "national security," is just plain crazy. Especially when we have years of advance warning to plan for global cooperation.

Nature is telling us loud and clear that we must change radically, from a world of competition to a world of cooperation. Only that radical shift in thinking will give us a chance to survive. If we can tear ourselves away from outdated nationalistic fantasies and get real, nature is giving us a chance to learn new ways to cooperate around the world. Even if the great climate change never happens, the cooperative steps we take to prepare for it are bound to make everyone’s life better. To do anything else would be crazy.