Pardee Center Director Speaks to U.S. Senators on Climate and Security

aspProf. Adil Najam, the Director of the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, spoke on how global climate change can become a major threat to global human well being and security at a major conference on The Day Before: A Conference on the National Security Implications of Climate Change, co-hosted by the American Security Project (ASP) and George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, on September 10, 2009. Other presenters included key military and public leaders including: Jim Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); General Lester L. Lyles, USAF (Ret.); Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.); Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University; Dr. Charles Glaser, Ms. Ladeene Freimuth; and ASP Senior Fellow Dr. Bernard Finel.

The conference was also addressed by Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), former Presidential Candidate and Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Later, Senator Kerry hosted an informal meeting at the U.S. Capitol for the speakers, including Prof. Najam, to meet key U.S. Senators interested in national security and climate change.

In his speech, Prof. Najam highlighted the need to rethink the meaning of security, especially in the context of climate change and to focus on the human dimensions of insecurity. He pointed out that while climate change was clearly a security ‘problem,’ there was no security ’solution’ to climate change and that there was a danger that if we “securitized the climate problem we would also end up securitizing the solution to climate change.” Prof. Najam stressed that climate was a ‘threat multiplier’ and the correct security response to it was to address climate change before it can multiply critical security threats. (Also see, here and here).

The full text of Senator Kerry’s important speech on global climate change policy can be read here. He said, in part:

Eight years ago today, on September 10th, 2001, America experienced one last moment of complacency before plunging into crisis.  That day, the world was already being transformed, but too few knew or understood the new era we were about to enter.

On September 10, Washington was consumed with business as usual.  The top headline in the New York Times read, “Fear of Recession Ignites Discussion of More Tax Cuts”—we know how that turned out.

Cable news was wrapping up an entire summer of wall-to-wall coverage of Americans under attack.  Unfortunately, the grave threat they warned us about came not from al Qaeda or Bin Laden, but from sharks attacking swimmers at the beach.

In retrospect, it’s hard to fathom the level of collective naiveté, but that was America’s reality on “the day before.”  In the weeks and months that followed, so many in rooms just like this one shared the same regret:  Washington simply didn’t connect the dots in time.

Well, today Adil Najam, Michael Oppenheimer, and I, along with many others, are working to connect the dots on another emerging threat.   Once again the world is being upended, and too few are taking action.  The latest science warns that we have a ten-year window – at most – to prevent catastrophic, irreversible climate change.  That means we are once again living in a “day before” moment that cries out for action.

This is not hype.  I’m not trying to compare two challenges that, frankly, are incomparable to each other or anything else in our history.  I’m not arguing that we view the wide-ranging threat of climate change entirely through the narrow lens of terrorism—though there are good reasons to think that climate change could worsen the terrorist threat.

The real lesson of “the day before,” ladies and gentlemen, is that when we see a threat on the horizon, we can’t afford to wait until it arrives.  Unless we take dramatic action – now— to restrain global climate change, we risk unleashing an aggressive new challenge to global stability, to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, and yes, toAmerica’s national security.

This article first appeared in the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future on September 10, 2009.

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