News | 1st Mar, 2003

Leaked Pentagon report warns climate change may bring famine, war

March 2003

It could be the latest installment in a futuristic Hollywood thriller — if it wasn’t based on fact.

Last week a leaked Pentagon report predicted that the planet could be brought to “the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies”.

Experts familiar with the secret report said the threat to global stability “vastly eclipses that of terrorism”.
And what is the cause of this threat?

Not a despotic dictator, or a looming collision with an asteroid, but global warming.

The report states: “Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life….Once again, warfare would define human life.”

Coming just weeks after environmentalist David Bellamy compared wind farms to weapons of mass destruction, the timing of the report – commissioned for the normally conservative Pentagon – is ironic.

Some examples given of probable scenarios in the dramatic report include:

  • “Catastrophic” shortages of potable water and energy will lead to widespread war by 2020;
  • Britain will have winters similar to those in Siberia as European temperatures drop off radically by 2020.

After a summer of severe weather events, which has seen flooding from Melbourne to Queensland mixed with an increasing number of scorching days and continued drought, the average Australian would not have to stretch their imagination too far to contemplate the Pentagon scenario.

But while the message of the report would appear to be a bleak and hopeless one – and many of us would just like to pack up and move to Mars – the message is actually one of hope and action.

Global warming is caused by a man-made blanket of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, which surrounds the earth and traps in heat. So while the cause of global warming is man-made, the solutions can – and must – also be man-made.

Last month (February) Australia played host to some of the world’s best scientific minds, who are examining ways to slow and even stop global warming, not just to reduce emissions but to eliminate them altogether.

Many of the scientists at the meeting on the Gold Coast agreed on one point: the longer we wait the more difficult global warming will be to manage.

One speaker, the director of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council climate centre, David Hawkins, told the audience: “Global warming is a decade’s long problem, but we can’t fix it unless we start now…We can’t solve the problem by delaying.

“It may be 20 years before we fully understand how much the climate will warm but if we wait 20 years it will be too late. Now is the time to do something about it.”

The solutions the speakers proposed were three-fold.

Firstly, we must focus on the development of renewable energies, such as wind farms. It is widely understood that every megawatt of wind power generated goes towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of global warming.

It is also ironic that while, for instance, wind opponents fear turbines are “bird blenders”, a report released by Nature in January revealed that global warming could see one million species become extinct by 2050.
Secondly, the boffins agree that we must all become energy wise. A report released by Environment Victoria in January showed the average Victorian family can save up to $570 a year on power bills just by reducing energy use. Saving money and energy also saves the environment by cutting back on the average household greenhouse emissions of 15 tonnes per year.

Thirdly, the scientists advocate the development of an emerging and controversial technology: carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS). Victorians are certain to hear more about CCS, or geosequestration, as the Bracks Government explores options for this state. CCS involves capturing greenhouse gas emissions and storing them underground – ideally with no dangerous leakage.

While these three solutions are global in nature, they must be local in action.

The fact is, Victorians are among the world’s worst carbon dioxide polluters, per capita, because brown coal fuels about 95 per cent of the electricity generated in the state.

In Australia, 90 per cent of electricity generation comes from fossil fuels and almost 50 per cent of this country’s greenhouse emissions are caused by power generation.

It is now accepted that our continued reliance on outdated technologies, particularly coal-fired power generation, is feeding global warming.

Our focus therefore must now be on how we can solve this problem by switching to newer and smarter energy technologies – which are available now. By harnessing technological advances we can slow-down and prevent the damage.

The Pentagon report must stand not as a beacon of impending doom but as a catalyst for immediate change.