In the wake of the 2004 US Presidential elections, one of the buzz streams we heard from the punditocracy concerned the allegedly historic metamorphosis of soccer moms to security moms. Regular folks were (and are) terrified of another 9/11, evidently, and the voting moms of America had shifted their focus from health care, education, and other traditional mom-stereotype issues to “security”. In practice this ended up giving carte blanche to the GOP, and the traditional mom issues of education and health care be damned.
Well, fair enough. There are serious dangers in the world and security is an important issue, though some of us might ague for a broader definition of what security means than the caricature that evidently motivates certain powerful politicians in this country. In that vein, it behooves us to consider what the biggest threat to our security is. Is it Al Qaeda? Hardly. Try climate change.
According to “Australia’s top policeman” Mick Keelty, the biggest security threat of the 21st century will be the movement of “climate refugees” displaced by warming-induced drought in the world’s most populous country:
“We could see a catastrophic decline in the availability of fresh water. Crops could fail, disease could be rampant and flooding might be so frequent that people, en masse, would be on the move . . . Even if only some and not all of this occurs, climate change is going to be the security issue of the 21st century . . . In their millions, people will look for new land and they’ll cross borders to do it. The existing cultural tensions may be exacerbated as large numbers of people undertake a forced migration.”
Mr. Keelty has reason to be concerned. Australia stands (if that is the appropriate word for this posture) with the USA as one of the few industrialized countries that has declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Interestingly, just the other day, President Bush declined to atend a major UN meeting on the urgent need for action on climate change, preferring an alternative that has become a hallmark of his administration — holding his own junior meeting among people of like mind that he feels comfortable with and that can be counted on to stand and cheer at his pronouncements.
The President is not one to be moved by an official from Australia, even its top policeman. On the other hand, he is fond of stating in discussions of the Iraq war that he goes to his top generals for advice on how to proceed. Curiously, he appears not to have followed this protocol on the issue of future security threats, when a group of America’s top generals came to a conclusion very similar to that of Mr. Keelty. The report notes that “The chaos that results [from climate change] can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide and the growth of terrorism.” General Anthony Zinni, Mr Bush’s ex-Mid-East peace envoy and former commander of US Central Command, wrote:
“It’s not hard to make the connection between climate change and instability, or climate change and terrorism . . . 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.”
“The leadership role of the United States is absolutely essential,” said Timothy E. Wirth, a former senator and an environmental official in the Clinton administration, who is now president of the United Nations Foundation. “Unless the United States decides that it wants to be a major and committed leadership player in this and make very specific commitments, much of the rest of the world is effectively going to hide behind the skirts of the United States and not do anything.”
But leadership, alas, appears to be in short supply here. I sincerely hope we can rely on the security moms and other concened voters to change that.