Friday, January 21, 2011

Geoengineering to Enhance Security

Critics often point to geoengineering as a threat to security, usually focusing on the supposed risks of unilateral deployment. I have argued elsewhere that the threat of unilateral deployment is a myth, and that climate engineering is subject to a “logic of multilateralism.” There is a corollary to this argument, which is that climate engineering should be viewed as a means to enhance global security. As with other aspects of the geoengineering debate, the appropriate comparison is not between the present world and a future geoengineered world, but rather between a geoengineered world and a world experiencing unchecked climate change. Viewed from this perspective, geoengineering offers a sound strategy for reducing future climate insecurity.

There is no shortage of potential flashpoints associated with higher temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and other elements of global climate change. Countries are already scrambling for resources and trade routes made accessible by a thawing Arctic, and an ice-free, open Northwest Passage is likely to become a hotly contested strategic asset. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas threaten to trigger “water wars” among Asian neighbors, including India and China. Rising sea levels in the South China Sea could greatly aggravate regional disputes over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Internal state collapse is more likely to occur. Droughts, floods, desertification, extreme weather events—as these increase in frequency and intensity, they will exacerbate tensions within failed and failing states. The conflict in Darfur has been referred to as the first “climate war.” Countries such as Bangladesh, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are among the most vulnerable to climate change, and could produce even more local and regional instability under business-as-usual emissions scenarios. Government breakdown and fractured societies create opportunities for crime, terrorism, and proxy wars.

Even with immediate adoption of sharp cuts in carbon emissions (an unlikely prospect), the amount of legacy loading in the atmosphere increases the chances of instability and violence due to climate change. In this context, climate intervention, especially relatively fast-acting SRM techniques, constitutes a powerful tool for promoting international peace and stability. Rather than undercutting global security, geoengineering facilitates improved security, reduced conflict, and less war.

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