June 23, 2013

Catastrophic Climate Change

CSIS-CNAS: Security Implications of Climate Change

Scenario Overview

Time Span: 100 Years
Warming: 5.6°C
Sea Level Rise: 2.0 meters

A Malignant Threat: Climate Change

[T}hree factors should lead a prudent individual to consider such catastrophic change plausible:
  1. [The] possibility that some positive feedback loops could radically accelerate climate change well beyond what the climate models currently predict;
  2. [The] prospect of accelerated emissions of CO2 in the near future due to substantial economic and population growth, particularly in developing countries such as China; and
  3. [The] interactive effects between these two phenomena and our increasingly integrated and fragile just-in-time — but certainly not just-in-case — globalized economy.
(p 81, emphasis added)

A Malevolent Threat: Mass Terrorism

Oil presents a panoply of opportunities for and encouragement of mass terrorism [and] creates a litany of vulnerabilities for our society.
[Around] two-thirds of the world’s proven [conventional oil] reserves … are in the Persian Gulf …
Some oil states’ governments (Iran) are quite hostile today [and] others (Saudi Arabia) could become so with a change of ruler.
A nuclear arms race appears to be beginning between Iran and six Sunni states which have announced nuclear programs “for electricity generation.”
The United States borrows approximately a billion dollars a day at today’s prices to import oil …
The Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia profits massively from oil income …
[Their] teachings are murderous with respect to Shia, Jews, homosexuals, and apostates, and are mirrored by the views of al Qaeda and similar groups …
Extremely wealthy oil-exporting [nations] are thus often [totalitarian states — unconstrained by any institutional checks and balances.]
(p 87)
[Of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers:
  • fifteen were Saudi nationals,
  • two were from the United Arab Emirates,
  • one was from Egypt and
  • one from Lebanon.
None were from Iraq or Afghanistan.]

Getting Down to Work

[Mass terrorism is a concrete threat.
Climate change is not.]
[But] if we wait for absolute certainty of the threat — for a climatological 9/11 — we may then be past a tipping point from which there is no recovery.

[Wouldn’t] it be wise to take steps — particularly when many of them are financially attractive — that reduce both
  • the risk of mass terrorism and
  • the chance of catastrophic climate change?
[Could we not work together and agree to take the same sensible steps even it is for different reasons?]
(p 90 emphasis added)



Sea Level Rise and Challenges to Existing Infrastructure
Potential National Security Consequences of Climate Change
A Malevolent Threat: Mass Terrorism

Meeting Both Malignant and Malevolent Threats


Washington DC.

  • The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change, 5 November, 2007.
    Kurt M Campbell, Jay Gulledge, JR McNeill, John Podesta, Peter Ogden, Leon Fuerth, R James Woolsey, Alexander TJ Lennon, Julianne Smith, Richard Weitz and Derek Mix.


    R James Woolsey: former Director of Central Intelligence

    Catastrophic Climate Change

    Exponential Change and Scenario Planning

    [Humans tend to adopt a] “intuitive linear” view of phenomena rather than a “historical exponential” view.
    [Ray Kurzweil] uses the example of a property owner with a pond who frequently cleans out small numbers of lily pads.
    [With] the pads covering only 1% of the pond, the owner goes away, returning weeks later to find it covered with lily pads and the fish dead. …
    When change is exponential we often have great difficulty comprehending it …

    [The] adaptability of human society itself is difficult to predict in the presence of great and continuing catastrophe.
    [In such a case, the] conflicts over land, migrating populations, or resources described [here] might well be overshadowed … by broader societal collapse.
    (p 82)

    Massively Destructive Terrorism

    The scope of death and destruction sought by the perpetrators of [religiously-rooted] terrorism is … something most people find difficult to envision. …
    [The] aspects of our energy systems that help create the risk of climate change also create vulnerabilities that terrorists bent on massive destruction are likely to target.
    We need to be alert to the possibility that although our current circumstances are doubly dangerous, this confluence could give us an opportunity to design a set of changes in our energy systems that will help us deal with both problems.

    Positive Feedback Loops and Tipping Points

    Positive feedback loops can relatively quickly accelerate climate change to the tipping point at which it becomes impossible to reverse destructive trends, even with future reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
    (p 81)

    Polar Regions

    Current methane emissions are probably still below 50 million tons annually, but over 100 years a ton of methane affects climate 23 times more powerfully than a ton of CO2, so this current emission rate is the warming equivalent of about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
    Today carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are about 30 billion tons per year, or just over 4.5 tons per person on average.
    If the permafrost thaws enough due to the initial linear warming trend we are experiencing today … accelerated warming and faster thaw … could produce a tipping point beyond which humans no longer control the addition of excess greenhouse gases to the atmosphere …
    We don’t know the exact point at which this vicious circle would begin, but there are some indications that a substantial permafrost thaw is already underway. …
    Such release over a few decades could raise worldwide temperatures by 5 to 6°C or more …

    Around 125,000 years ago, at the warmest point between the last two ice ages, global sea level was four to six meters higher than it is today and global temperature was only about 1°C higher. …
    Our catastrophic scenario includes 5 to 6°C of warming, which is similar to 3 million years ago, before the ice ages.
    Sea level then was about 25 meters higher than today.
    Although the time required for that much sea level rise to occur remains in question … 2 meters of sea level rise by the end of this century appears quite plausible.
    (p 83)

    Economic Development

    In the 20th century, world population quadrupled and world economic growth averaged 3.6% annually.
    Even if we assume slower population growth, say a doubling of world population in the 21st century, and also a lower growth rate of 2.4% — the latter producing a fivefold increase in GDP per capita — unless fuel use per unit of GDP changes substantially, we would see a 10-fold increase in carbon dioxide emissions by century’s end. …

    Rapidly growing developing countries are expected to account for an overwhelming 85% of energy demand growth between today and 2020.
    China alone represents a third of total growth.

    Sea Level Rise and Challenges to Existing Infrastructure

    [The] steady melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet together with the perhaps sudden melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet hold the prospect for some 12 meters of sea level rise. …
    The melting of the East Antarctic shelf would add approximately 25 meters …

    Coastal Regions

    [Regions] in the developed world facing the likely prospect of inundation by the end of the century would be:
    • major portions of cities and wide regions of the US coast from South Texas to West Florida and from East Florida to New York;
    • extensive areas bordering the Chesapeake Bay and most of South Florida and eastern North Carolina;
    • the lower Hudson Valley;
    • huge shares of the coasts of San Francisco Bay;
    • much of Sydney and all of Darwin, Australia;
    • a large share of Japanese ports;
    • Venice and a major share of coastal Tuscany;
    • the majority of the Netherlands;
    • much of Dublin;
    • a major share of Copenhagen; and
    • the Thames and the eastern and southern coasts of England.
    (p 84)

    Storm surge would affect people much farther inland and on more elevated coastlines.

    [Sea] level rise in the range of 2 meters in this century could have …
    • potentially catastrophic [effects] on Egypt, Vietnam, and the Bahamas and a number of other island nations [and]
    • "very large" effects on China and India. …

    [Sea level rise would compound other effects of changing climate including:]
    • agricultural disruptions and famines,
    • spread of disease,
    • water scarcity, and
    • severe storm damage …
    [Rising sea levels are additive to ground subsidence due to] excessive ground water extraction [— up to 10 cm per year in the Philipines. …]
    [Likewise, some] of the land south of New Orleans will likely lose about 1 meter of elevation by the end of this century as a result of subsidence. …

    More than 100 million people in South America and 1 … to 2 billion in Asia rely on glacial runoff for all or part of their fresh water supply.
    As these glaciers shrink they will add substantially to the need to emigrate in search of water and arable land.
    The relevant glaciers are retreating rapidly and some are already virtually gone.
    This problem is likely to [peak within] decades.
    (p 85, emphasis added)

    Potential National Security Consequences of Climate Change

    [Historically, human beings have responded to natural disasters with:]
    • rage at government’s inability to deal with the abrupt and unpredictable crises;
    • religious fervor [—] perhaps even a dramatic rise in millennial end-of-days cults;
    • hostility and violence toward migrants and minority groups [—] at a time of demographic change and increased global migration; and
    • intra- and interstate conflict over resources [—] particularly food and fresh water.
    [Overseas] deployments in response to clear military needs may prove very difficult.
    Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines might be able to deploy, but aviation fuel or fuel for destroyers and other non-nuclear ships could be unobtainable. …
    [Many] ports and harbors south of New York on the East Coast and overseas [would likely] disappear or become usable …
    (p 85)

    Population Changes and Migrations

    [Migration] toward our borders by millions of our hungry and thirsty southern neighbors, are likely to dominate US security and humanitarian concerns.

    Globally … populations will migrate from increasingly hot and dry climates to more temperate ones.
    [Based] on current demographic trends, there will be fewer than 100 million Russians by 2050, nearly a third of whom will be Muslim. …
    [China will face the] need to resettle many tens, even hundreds, of millions from its flooding southern coasts.
    China has never recognized many of the Czarist appropriations of Chinese territory, and Siberia may be more agriculturally productive after a 5 to 6°C rise in temperatures [—] adding another attractive feature to a region rich in oil, gas, and minerals.
    A small Russian population might have substantial difficulty preventing China from asserting control over much of Siberia and the Russian Far East.
    The [risk] of conflict between two destabilized nuclear powers would [be] high.

    Energy Infrastructure

    Interactions between climate change and the existing infrastructure could create major failures in the systems that support modern civilization. …
    Hydroelectric electricity generation may be substantially affected by reduced glacial runoff or by upstream nations diverting rivers in some parts of the world.
    Nuclear power plant cooling may be limited by reduced water availability.
    Increased numbers and intensity of storms could interfere with long-distance electricity transmission …

    Sea level rise and chaotic weather patterns may interfere with oil production …
    [Oil refineries on the US] Gulf Coast [are subject] to disruption by storms …
    Hurricane Katrina came very close to shutting down the Colonial Pipeline [which links eastern seaboard to the Gulf Coast.]
    (p 86)

    A Malevolent Threat: Mass Terrorism

    [Electricity] generation and distribution [infrastructure] highly vulnerable to attack by terrorists and rogue states. …
    [Very] little has been done [to improve] the security of … the large transformers at grid sub-stations or effectively [protect] the grid’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) control systems from destructive hacking. …

    [The grid is also extremely vulnerable an] electro-magnetic pulse.
    [The] detonation of a single nuclear warhead between 40 and 400 kilometers above the Earth [by a rogue state or terrorist group] could …
    degrade at least 70% of the Nation’s electrical service [in an instant.]
    [This would precipitate] cascading failures of our major infrastructures [crippling:]
    • telecommunications …
    • the financial system …
    • [the] means of getting food, water, and medical care to the citizenry …
    • trade [and]
    • [the] production of goods and services.
    (US Electromagnetic Pulse Commission, 2004)
    [Locally] stored fuel for emergency power supplies such as diesel for generators is often limited to about 72 hours’ supply.
    Food available in supermarkets generally supplies about one to three days of requirements for customers and regional food warehouses usually stock enough for a multi-county area to last about one month.
    (p 88)

    Toward a Partnership to Deal With Both Malignant and Malevolent Threats

    [There are policy alternatives that address both malignant (eg climate change) and malevolent (eg mass terrorism) without necessarily prioritizing one at the expense of the other ie "no regrets" options.]

    Energy Efficiency

    [By] using existing technologies (where there is an internal rate of return of 10% or more), we can reduce world energy demand [and associated carbon emissions by] by 20 to 24% …
    Wal-Mart [— simply by] painting its store roofs white and adding skylights [— achieved an immediate] 20% improvement in energy efficiency … and expects 25 to 30% improvements [over the next 2 years.]

    Regulatory reform can also … promote efficiency and conservation.
    California … decoupled electric utility revenues from earnings some twenty years ago [and Idaho has done so more recently.]
    [Their] utilities’ earnings are based on their investment, including investment in energy efficiency, not on their sales of electricity.
    [Partly for this reason,] California’s per capita use of electricity has been level for twenty years while the rest of the country’s use has gone up 60 per cent.
    In the other 48 states, utilities must sell more electricity in order to earn more …
    [This is a perverse incentive to pollute.]

    Decreasing electricity demand
    • [increases network] resilience,
    • [lessens grid congestion] and
    • [reduces] the need for new generating capacity.
    [Savings] could be used …
    • to protect and stockpile transformers and
    • to protect control systems from cyber attack.

    Distributed Generation of Electricity

    [Half of Denmark's] electricity is produced by such combined heat and power (CHP, or co-generation).
    [By comparison,] only about 8% of US electricity comes from CHP.
    Our practice of wasting heat instead of using it to produce electricity is determined by culture and [regulation.]
    [By emulating Denmark, the US could:]
    • begin to get dual use from the heat that industry generates instead of just venting it into the atmosphere, and …
    • make substantial progress toward decentralizing electricity production, reducing the need for new power plants and transmission lines.
    This would make “islanding” easier …
    [By] enabling parts of the grid to be locally self-sufficient [there is less risk of a terrorist attack taking out large sections of it.]

    We [could] also create strong, long-term incentives for small-scale electricity generation and heating/cooling.
    Forty out of fifty states now have “net metering” laws that … make it possible for those who have generating capacity — say rooftop solar photovoltaic systems — to sell some home-generated electric power back to the grid.
    (p 89)

    Small-scale wind turbines … are beginning to enter the single-building market …
    Shallow (heat pump) geothermal can work effectively in many areas to heat and cool individual buildings …

    [The] power losses (often well above 50%) inherent in central station power-plant electricity generation and transmission are avoided by distributed generation.

    Transforming Transportation

    Our objective should be to destroy not oil, but oil’s dominance of transportation the way electricity and refrigeration a century ago destroyed salt’s dominance of meat preservation.

    [Incentives could drive a rapid] transition to plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) that are also flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs).
    [Using] inexpensive off-peak overnight electricity [consumers could achieve savings of] a fifth to a tenth of the cost of driving on gasoline …
    [And] as the CO2 emissions of electricity production are reduced over the years, cleaning up the grid also cleans up PHEV emissions.
    [In addition,] by keeping PHEVs plugged into the grid after they are charged they may be used … in Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) connections to substitute for around $12 billion annually in fossil fuel costs for “ancillary services,” such as stabilizing and regulating the grid’s operations and providing “spinning” reserves to deal with power outages.
    (p 90)

    A 50 mpg hybrid that is given a more capable battery, turning it into a PHEV will, for average daily driving, be getting over 100 miles per gallon of gasoline …
    [If] its liquid fuel is [was] 85% ethanol [produced from biomass or waste], its gasoline mileage goes up to around 500 mpg of gasoline.
    (p 90)

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