Friday, November 4, 2016

Risk Analysts Agree: Climate Change Is Biggest Threat - But Not On Candidates' Radar

It really wasn't surprising to me to read in the most recent TIME (Nov. 7, p. 48)that one of the elements of angst keeping teens up at night is climate change-greenhouse warming. Logically, it should be given they will be the ones to inherit a planet with polluted cities, oceans suitable only for jellyfish and heat waves that will make current ones look balmy by comparison. And we're not even getting into the major extinction of animal life going on even as I write.

Also, no surprise that according to a recent AP  report, 17 of 21 risk assessment specialists ranked climate change as the top threat to humanity, selected from a broad spectrum. Again, it should be ranked so for any sentient beings paying attention, which often means reading much more than provided by the corporate media. Those who need to understand why the corporate media would not give full attention to climate change, or portray it in terms of "equal and opposing viewpoints" (i.e. to denial or skepticism) should read Robert McChesney's 'The Problem of the Media'.

Anyway, the risk experts were particularly chagrined to observe that neither presidential candidate has the five major threats properly on their radar, or cited in their various speeches. Why not? Is it a fear of "negativity"?  That would hardly be applicable in the case of Trump who revels in negativity, i.e. that the nation is spiraling down the proverbial toilet. But perhaps he avoids threats like climate change  because it entails science, which he  doesn't understand.

So while Trump waxes long on immigration (giant walls needed to build) and terrorism, we hear nary a word about a threat that vastly exceeds either. According to University of California engineering professor and expert on human -caused disasters, Bob Bea,  quoted in yesterday's Denver Post (p. 11A):

"I have not heard or read about any significant deliberations of the major risks that face our country today and tomorrow."

Even Clinton appears to be more concerned with financial  insecurity and gun violence than climate change or the real risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia.  This, in fact, was a front and center worry of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in a recent report - especially as regards Syria and the adoption o possibly "no fly zones".

Both candidates, in terms of ignoring the primary threat of climate change, would have done well to look up last year's 'Defense, National Security And Climate Change Symposium' , held in Washington, D.C.  At the Symposium,  Brigadier General Stephen Cheney stepped up to the podium to discuss 'Conflict and Climate Change'. Cheney, like some other speakers- zeroed in on climate-driven migration, asserting:

"We know for a fact that climate change is already driving internal and cross border migration"

Referencing here, for example, that in Bangladesh - the 'ground zero' of global warming- rising sea levels could displace 15 million by 2050. Oxford University's Norman Myers has projected there could be as many as 200 million climate refugees by mid-century.  Cheney's presentation tagged a number of conflicts that climate change triggers, including the desertification in the borderlands between Chad and Nigeria which "has caused a lot of migration". He also indicated that the terror organization Boko Haram "is simply taking advantage of that".

Other aspects of Cheney's talk cited beefing up military infrastructure at home and abroad to be resistant to harsher climate. The army, in fact, has adopted a 'Net Zero' initiative to make its U.S. bases water and energy independent.  Supporting the national defense position, nearly all the reinsurance companies (like Munich Re) have climate change factored into their tables, costs, plans.

All of the above could have been cited by either candidate - in any of their  forums, debates - but wasn't.  Economic and psychology expert George Loewenstein, was typical of the risk assessment experts consulted in the AP study. He called climate change "a problem that threatens the very existence of the human race and is already having devastating consequences around the world".

Indeed, extreme weather events derived from climate change have killed more than twice as many people in the U.S. as terror attacks in the past 15 years - including the carnage on September 11, 2001.   In fact, the slow rolling disaster of ever intensifying climate change can be thought of as a mode of natural terror which we dismiss or diminish at our peril.

Yet it didn't remotely make the radar in any major political forum. One can understand this omission in the case of a scientifically illiterate or unread person who dismisses global warming as a "blurtation",  but it is incomprehensible for any leader who must confront it.  When asked to rate Clinton and Trump to their attention to major threats facing the nation and the world, 14 of the 21 risk experts gave Trump an average of 'F', and Clinton a C+.  Not much to brag about!

Seth Baum, executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute offered (ibid.) that Clinton "appeared to be assessing risks based on more careful analysis"  whereas Trump "appears to rely more on intuition". Which is a polite way of saying Trump doesn't read science articles, books or papers but goes by his gut.

The results of the AP survey were similar to a larger survey of 750 experts conducted earlier this year by the World Economic Forum. Their Global Risks Report 2016 found that the five biggest global risks in terms of impact were: 1) climate change, 2) weapons of mass destruction, 3) water crises, 4) large scale migration, and 5) severe energy price shocks.

At least three of the four (and possible (5)) can be directly tied to overpopulation, see e.g.


Part of the mandate of our leaders is to bring these threats and problems to the attention of the people. It isn't to allow them to remain ignorant and comfortably ensconced in a fool's paradise.  The risk assessment surveys cited here impart a clear warning shot that it will have to be up to citizens to inform themselves, not wait for their leaders to do it. That then implies action on these issues may have to percolate from the ground up.

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