Imagine that US leaders were told that hundreds of nuclear weapons were set on a timer to detonate across the planet, progressively and in increasing numbers, over the coming years and decades. The lives of millions would be upended, if not made nearly impossible to survive, by transformed weather patterns and resource scarcity. Tens of millions would become migrants as regions became uninhabitable. Millions would die, more and more as time went on. If this science fiction were reality, US leaders would lead an international effort to immediately disarm and dismantle the weapons.
But this isn’t science fiction. Climate change is a ticking time bomb, literally threatening to end human life on earth over the coming centuries. As climate journalist Peter Brannen describes it, Earth faced a similar crisis hundreds of millions of years ago during the “Great Dying” when volcanoes spewed so much carbon dioxide into the air – including magma that blanketed an area as large as the lower 48 US states, 1km deep – that it almost killed all life. Today, Brannen says, “we’re shooting carbon dioxide up into the atmosphere 10 times faster than the ancient volcanoes”.
Even in the shorter term, climate change will make the world far more dangerous. A World Bank Group report estimates that climate change could drive 140 million people to move within their countries’ borders by 2050. A report by the Trump administration finds climate change could reduce the size of the US economy by 10% – more than twice as bad as the worst part of the Great Recession – by 2100. Growing resource scarcity could cause more wars. Deadly and destructive extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and California’s Camp fire are mild symptoms of the plague to come.
There is no greater national security threat than climate change. Even the specter of nuclear war between great powers – the only thing that could remotely mimic the effects of climate change over time – is a much lower risk than climate change, which is already happening. [Continue reading…]