Hey George! The Pentagon's Scared Too

Pentagon brass see climate change as huge threat. Opinion piece by New York Daily News columnist, Lenore Skenazy.

Published: 19-Mar-2004

thing about global warming is that all you have to do is say those two words and most people’s eyelids - like our polar icecaps - start sliding down, down, down.

Mine too. But in a minute, your eyes are going to boiling open so wide, you may not be able to sleep tonight. That’s because global warming is suddenly Topic A at two places not normally associated with hugging trees: the Pentagon and the insurance industry.

They have just realized: Hey, if the climate really is going to hell - thanks to willy-nilly burning of fossil fuels - this could mean tidal waves, droughts, searing heat and freezing cold. Not to mention nuclear war. That means global warming is: (1) At least as big a threat to the world as terrorism, and (2) probably going to cost a whole lot in insurance payouts!

Yes, yes, I find realization No. 1 more troubling than No. 2, too. But the good thing about the hawks and corporations starting to voice the same concerns is that these are two groups the Bush administration may actually pay attention to.

The Pentagon report was commissioned to assess the threat to national security if there is an “abrupt climate change event.” (They always say “event” when they mean catastrophe.) And the report’s conclusion?

There’s a huge threat! If global warming brings on famine and drought, these could trigger wars for water, food and oil. If the average rainfall in Europe plummets - a distinct possibility - we could see massive boatlifts of people attempting to enter America. If India and Pakistan are desperate for the same shrinking source of drinking water, they could go nuclear. If America and China both enter an ice age, they might go to war for Saudi Arabia’s oil. Etc., etc., etc.

The Pentagon bigwig who commissioned this report is Andrew Marshall, an 82-year-old legend so wise and experienced that his colleagues call him “Yoda.” Marshall released the report’s findings to Fortune magazine, and his motive seems clear: to goad the business community into taking action, because goading President Bush has gotten nowhere.

To date, Bush has not only pooh-poohed warnings on global warming, he has gone so far as to distort his own EPA’s findings. He also refused to sign the Kyoto Accord on greenhouse emissions, claiming America needed more time to research whether this was a manmade problem.

The Pentagon report says that wasting more time is irresponsible, and manmade global warming is real. And that’s what the insurance companies are starting to realize, too.

Swiss Re, a giant company that insures other insurers, has just issued a call to action. Its climate expert, Pamela Heck, says that last summer’s European heat wave that killed 19,000 may have been a “glimpse at climate change to come.”

In its blockbuster report, Swiss Re estimates that in 10 years, the economic cost of disasters like floods, frosts and famines caused by global warming could reach $150 billion annually. That’s the cost to the insurance industry of a World Trade Center disaster every year.

The way to avoid this horrible scenario is clear, says Jon Coifman, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council: We must cut way back on our country’s carbon dioxide emissions.

“We are about 4 percent of the population and produce about 25 percent of the world’s emissions,” he says. To pollute less, we need to switch to cleaner, renewable energy sources. We need to build more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. And we need new laws limiting industrial emissions.

Fortunately, there is a global warming bill coming to Congress this spring sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., that addresses these issues. It came within just seven votes of passing last year. This year, it must pass.

Or else.

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