HAGUE — A significant number of Americans are on the fence regarding whether climate change is truly a major, urgent threat to our country and our world and whether it is caused primarily by human actions. Even as the evidence mounts up on global warming and on related weather impacts such as massive fires and flooding, the undecided still hear some people argue that the information on climate change is not yet sufficiently compelling or credible.
If you are uncertain about climate change, there is a mechanism that is used in military intelligence and related intelligence work that can be useful for you in thinking about this issue. This mechanism is called triangulating on the truth.
Here is how it works. If you are receiving important information from one set of sources but still have some concerns about its validity, seek out other, different types of information sources. These should be sources who are looking at the same issue but are coming at it from a different background and perspective.
Each type of information source may have its own strengths and weaknesses. But across such a range of sources, their weaknesses typically balance out. So if these diverse types of sources all come to the same conclusion, you can have considerable confidence in their collective accuracy.
The 13 primary U.S. government civilian agencies dealing with possible climate change conclude in their Fourth National Climate Assessment released last November that it is real, its threats are immense and action is needed urgently. These U.S. civilian specialists continue to flag the dangers that climate change is bringing to areas such as our environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, and human health and welfare.
The five branches of the U.S. military agree as do our intelligence agencies such as the CIA. Our military and intelligence organizations have been speaking and writing about the growing threat of “climate and security” since the first administration of President George W. Bush. By 2014, the threats coming from climate change were flagged in documents such as the Department of Defense’s top military strategy document, the “Quadrennial Defense Review.”
Our military and intelligence experts are not politicians or ideologues — they are security professionals. Their job must include taking a clear-eyed view of threats to our country and speaking truth to power.
The grim reality is that absent major actions to mitigate it, climate change will continue to threaten our military capacity as, for example, rising sea waters put on-shore facilities and roads at our largest naval base in the world, at Norfolk, under water. And meanwhile, the number and scale of wars and conflicts linked to climate change will continue to increase.
If one is skeptical of U.S. government entities, it is useful to know that all 197 countries around the world agree with this conclusion also. These countries have all signed the Paris Agreement to work to attain the reduction of greenhouse gases and other actions that are essential to keep our world from the catastrophes that unchecked climate change will bring. What is striking is the range of political philosophies of these countries, with governments ranging from right wing through communist and from developing countries though industrialized countries, and the agreement to work together for the common good between some countries that otherwise have tense and even hostile relationships.
Lastly, there is the fact that more than 97 percent of climate experts agree that climate change is an enormous threat to our world and is caused primarily by human action. This overwhelming scientific consensus raises the question of what constitutes a reasonable basis for our personal decision-making.
If your doctor told you that you have cancer and that you have to have it treated or you will die, you might well get a second or even third expert opinion. But would you really go to 25 cancer specialists? And if you found only one who disagreed, would you decide to not have the treatment and just take your chances?
Ours is a country of more than 325 million people, and thus you can always find some people who will argue in favor of virtually any point of view you can imagine. For those of us who are not scientific experts regarding climate change, triangulating on the truth can give us confidence that the objective reality is that climate change is real, extremely dangerous and urgent. And that we need to take action now to counter it.
Lance Clark of Hague is a former non-governmental organization and United Nations official and ambassador with 35 years of experience in international work. This has focused on emergency relief in conflict situations, forced displacements, early warning of conflicts, and peace operations and peacebuilding. He has worked in places such as Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Iraq, Georgia (former Soviet Union), Bosnia, Serbia and other countries.