Time for real leadership on climate change, energy, national security

The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking – and sobering.

By David M. Slayton and David Titley

The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history.  The result was a disaster in many ways; its reverberations continue to shape Europe and indeed the entire world today.

2014 marks the centennial anniversary of the commencement of World War One, 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 10 years since the 9/11 Commission’s sobering report on the last great external threat that impacted all Americans. 

Today, the Russians are on the move in the Crimea, the U.S. Department of Defense just released their capstone strategic document, and all the while we witness another unprecedented hot summer in Australia, a new Ocean opening in the Arctic and the wettest January on record for England and Wales.  Any connection?

The connection is what choices we make and how we make them when confronting complex world security situations where the future seems obvious only in retrospect and the dynamic present can feel overwhelming, what former secretary of state George P. Shultz refers to as a “world awash in change.”

Once again nations face a challenge – climate change -- which, if left unmanaged, has the potential to bring tremendous pain to tens of millions of people, and disrupt seriously the existing economic, political, and security orders of the day. 

While we do not know exactly how climate change will evolve, we do know that ignoring climate change is the same as assuming that there will be no change.  And that is exceeding unlikely.  And like the leaders on whose watch World War One started, today’s climate change policies of denial and delay are ‘supremely dangerous’.

So what to do?

We need to have adequate warning of truly extreme conditions or abrupt, unexpected changes in the world’s climate. 

Public and private-sector decision-makers require more understandable, more relevant, and more actionable information so they can better balance the risks, needs, and costs of adaptation with their many other competing political and economic concerns and responsibilities.  

To read the full article: Time for real leadership on climate change, energy, national security