Late last month, a group of national security strategists, top researchers and analysts gathered at the Kossiakoff Centre of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, to discuss two big worries that many in the mainstream media might have you believe aren’t causes for concern at all: energy security and climate change.
The best way to sum up the symposium’s conclusions? Don’t listen to the chattering heads on talk radio and television: the military’s top brass know better … and with their knowledge comes considerable nervousness.
It’s not just the Navy, either. The US Joint Forces Command explored similar waters last month with the release of its Joint Operating Environment 2010 document (also known as JOE 2010), whose purpose is to “describe the future operational environment and its implications on the structure and function of the joint force.” (The Joint Forces Command is one of 10 Department of Defense combatant commands and oversees more than 1.16 million service personnel in all branches of the military.)
So what do top military experts say we should worry about? Here’s a top 10 list:
- A severe energy crunch starting as soon as 2012. “By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD (million barrels per day),” the JOE 2010 warns.
- Security problems made worse by climate change. A changing climate could hurt food production and increase water scarcity, both of which could lead to regional conflicts or increased migration from hard-hit areas. “In a society confronted with starvation, food becomes a weapon every bit as important as ammunition,” according to the JOE 2010.
- Petro-dollars being funneled to terrorist organisations. From the JOE 2010: “(P)resuming the forces propelling radical extremism at present do not dissipate, a portion of OPEC’s windfall might well find its way into terrorist coffers, or into the hands of movements with deeply anti-modern, anti-Western goals — movements which have at their disposal increasing numbers of unemployed young men eager to attack their perceived enemies.
- Climate threats to military operations and facilities. The US Navy has already created a Task Force Climate Change to how rising sea levels, more severe storms and ice-free Arctic waters could affect its mission.
- Insufficient incentives to ensure future energy security. “Without policy incentive to overcome socioeconomic inertia, development of needed technologies will likely not occur soon enough to allow capitalisation on a 10-30 (terawatt) scale by 2050,” noted the California Institute of Technology’s Nathan L. Lewis, one of the presenters at the Johns Hopkins symposium.
- Mistaken assumptions about energy in the past. “(W)hen designing everything that used energy in the battlespace, we assumed fuel logistics was free and invulnerable; fuel would automagically appear, both in theater and in wargames,” John Simpson, a senior fellow at the Rocky Mountain Institute, pointed out at the symposium. “Now we know better, so we’ll value fuel 1 – 2 orders of magnitude higher.”
- The tendency to want 100 per cent certainty on energy and climate models. “We never have 100% certainty,” warned General Gordon Sullivan, a retired Chief of Staff with the US Army. “If you wait until you have 100% certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield. That’s something we know.”
- An outdated electrical grid. The US’s ageing energy grid is “fragile,” “overtaxed” and “a threat to military capability,” noted retired US Air Force General Chuck Wald, a defense industry advisor.
- Energy price shocks. Dramatic spikes in energy costs threaten economic and social stability, while steadily rising expenses burden budgets. Since 1991, one presenter at the Johns Hopkins symposium pointed out, the consumer price index has increased by 59 per cent while energy costs have risen by 292 per cent.
- Climate changes that are happening faster than predicted. Rather than proving to be “doom-and-gloom” projections, many climate models have been shown to be too optimistic, noted Jay Gulledge, senior scientist and director of the science & impacts program at the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. Among the changes being observed faster than science predicted: sea levels rising about 50 per cent faster than expected, Arctic sea ice being lost at a rate about three times faster than projected, polar ice sheets losing mass 100 years earlier than forecast and global precipitation changing twice as fast as models had indicated.