“We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it.”
Radical democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders? Zany Hollywood cartoon producer Seth MacFarlane? Actually, neither: that’s former commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command General Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret.), voicing what for decades has been the consensus position of the Pentagon, and indeed of militaries all over the world. The quote comes from National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, a study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush.
So when Mollie Hemingway, writing for The Federalist (lol), insists that voicing concerns about climate change is not “an appropriate response to a question about national security,” bear in mind that her smug incredulity is at odds with the essentially unanimous assessment of militaries all over the world. That’s an extremely generous way to put it, because one can’t actually say that Hemingway is meaningfully at odds with a position she doesn’t appear to know anything about.
Nevermind her concession “that various military officials sometimes rattle on about climate change” — as if this is a trivial admission, and not a decisive rebuttal to her entire line of critique. Nevermind that, because the very attempt to minimize the military’s urgent and overwhelming consensus tells us everything we need to know about Hemingway’s familiarity with their position. I’ve personally sat in on closed-door meetings where military officials mulled over the danger that climate change poses to international stability, but you don’t have to have unusual access or even a significant attention span to get how wrong she is: just watch the Youtube video. Or use your goddammed head. Of course an environmental shift that floods major cities, dries out major agricultural basins into deserts, and exposes strategic resources to which multiple nations have competing claims — of fucking course all of this would have national security implications. How could it not?
Hemingway, as far as I can tell, only knows as much about national security as she could find from the third Google search hit for “national security definition” — and as much about climate change as she could gather from her hilariously confused misunderstanding of a study that explicitly contradicts her position. She seems to think that she’s called the scientific credibility of sea-level rise predictions into question when she notices an article that examines them over a 2,000 year timeframe. Here’s what the article actually says:
On a 2,000-y time scale, the sea-level contribution will be largely independent of the exact warming path during the first century. At the same time, 2,000 y is a relevant time scale, for example, for society’s cultural heritage … so the model runs assumed a uniform thinning of ice over a 2,000-y period with no margin retreat. Although this simplification will affect the accuracy of the results, the general characteristics of the pattern will not be affected.
This is not an admission that it could take 2,000 years for sea levels to rise — it is a proof that multiple factors will contribute to rising sea levels for the next 2,000 years. This is true even if we rely on hilariously conservative assumptions that no one in the scientific community actually buys, like the weird notion that global ice will melt linearly rather than exponentially. When you start to account for other factors like feedback loops and local gravity effects and incorporate all of that into an actually comprehensive model, the outcomes suddenly get a lot more immediate and terrifying.
What’s pathetic here is that the authors actually go out of their way to flag dummies like Hemingway, warning that their model is a “simplification” and explicitly disclaiming “the accuracy of the results” if you rely on it. Elsewhere, I noted that The Federalist is implicated in some pretty significant conflicts of interest in its reporting on climate change — its managing editor also happens to shill for a Koch-funded climate change denial outfit with a history and open strategy of planting propaganda in other media outlets — but in this particular case I’m not getting the impression of personal corruption. Pretending that climate change isn’t a national security issue is just way too catastrophically dumb to work as deliberate spin.
Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs.