Security establishment not well-equipped to deal with environmental issues: team

January 11, 2011 By Wendy Leopold

In a three-month investigation, a team of Northwestern University student reporters has found that the nation’s security establishment is not adequately prepared for many of the environmental changes that are coming faster than predicted and that threaten to reshape demands made on the military and intelligence community. This is despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense has called climate change a potential “accelerant of instability.”

The Medill School of Journalism graduate student team yesterday (Jan. 10) begins publication of its findings on the national security implications of with a series of print, video and interactive stories at . The first stories in the “Global Warning” series are running today in The Washington Post and on the McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington website at, and were distributed to more than 600 other newspapers through the McClatchy-Tribune news service. Additional stories will run in coming weeks in The Washington Post. Both media partners are linking to the entire project online.

”Reporting from the Arctic Circle, Bangladesh, Peru, Washington D.C. and elsewhere, the Medill students deliver a well-reported and well-told examination of an issue that, while largely neglected by the government and the media, is fast becoming one of the most serious national security concerns,” said Josh Meyer, who teaches in Medill’s Washington Program. Meyer, the director for education and outreach of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, was a national security writer for the Los Angeles Times for 10 years.

The 10 Medill graduate students interviewed more than 200 current and former national security officials and experts and reviewed scores of official documents and reports. While reporting, they used social media to create a community of people interested in the intersection of national security and climate change, informing them of their work through tweets, blog posts and an e-newsletter.

Among the project’s findings:

• The government lacks critical information about where and when climate changes will happen and what effect they will have on the U.S. military, intelligence and national security communities.

• In a major strategy review last year, the Pentagon acknowledged the challenge that climate change poses to its operations, including a dramatically increased need for intervention in future humanitarian crises. While military branches have begun global assessments of their vulnerabilities, many security experts say the work lacks senior level support in Congress and the administration and that military service preparations are not keeping up with environmental changes.

• Work by the CIA and environmental scientists during the Clinton administration was largely ignored in the years of George Bush’s presidency. Although the CIA is now spearheading intelligence assessments to determine where climate change could affect global stability, that work may be in jeopardy as Republicans skeptical of climate control take control of key congressional committees.

• The nation’s satellite system, which provides the lifeblood of climate information, is in disrepair after years of inadequate funding and, in the past two decades, the intelligence community has struggled both internally and politically to respond to the challenges posed by climate change.

• At home, critical infrastructure along the Gulf of Mexico is vulnerable to the stronger storms and more frequent flooding that are predicted due to climate change.

Stories in the series also explore how the U.S. defense and intelligence community is preparing for a melting Arctic, shifting disease vectors, altered glacial melt in the Andes and rising seas in South Asia.

In addition to traditional print and online pieces, the project allows audiences to explore the impact of climate change through creative interactive graphics that:

• demonstrate the impact of rising seas on domestic military installations;

• visualize the cascade of consequences that could turn climate changes into national security threats and crises;

• cast users as decision makers in a war game that plays out the consequences of climate change in four regional scenarios;

• convey the interrelated history of scientific findings, extreme weather events and political and defense policy as they relate to a changing climate through an interactive timeline;

• let users hear from the experts themselves and engage in the conversation; and

• provide an online library of dozens of government, academic and think tank documents related to climate change and national security.

“The imaginative use of interactive technology highlights Medill students’ advanced skills in presenting in-depth reporting in creative and entertaining ways that engage people and keep them informed,” said Professor Ellen Shearer, co-director of the Medill Journalism Initiative and director of the Medill Washington Program.

The students learned sophisticated interactive storytelling approaches with the help of Kat Downs of The Washington Post and Nelson Hsu of National Public Radio.

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not rated yet Jan 12, 2011
What the ____ are these people smoking?

The US millitary and intelligence community is the most prepared in the world. Any time there is a disaster, ANYWHERE in the world, the US is the first to offer aid and the best equipped to deliver that aid. We have food, equipment and people stationed in pre-positioned navy ships all around the world. We have airborn delivery capacity unmatched by any other nation. We have the power and global reach to deal with conflicts faster than anybody else. Our intelligence capabilities are beyond compare.

I'm not sure what this lady's agenda is, but it doesn't look like she's a warmist really. I'm sorry, but this is really suspicious to me. Is there some kind of defense budget thing coming soon? If you look at other things this lady has done in the past she doesn't seem to be a tree hugger or politically biased to one side or the other. She's done some really cool investigative reporting that doesn't seem to be left or right. Anybody got an idea?
1 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
Ok, thanks for PM'ing me for this one.

I think this abstract is too short and is really having trouble getting the research correctly depicted. Brevity sucks. This is a very complex topic and I think it was basically posited as a hypothetical or more philosophical question of the what if's posed by climate change in regards to our military capacity and the potential rammifications of issues like rising sea level, adaptability of things like our fixed military installations. Think about what a doubling of the Mississippi river would look like to a nuclear installation in the area. Or a loss of the Galveston refinery facilities starving us of fuel in the middle of war. I bet it becomes a series on the Discovery Channel, like that "After We're Gone" research did.
not rated yet Jan 12, 2011
Yeah, that sounds about right. Maybe it's the physorg summary that's throwing me off, rather than the original work. The part that your comment and the above article both fail to mention is that you're talking about worst case scenarios, rather than most probable outcomes based on best educated guesses. I guess the question is "how prepared do we need to be?". I don't think anyone could argue that our country doesn't already have more capability than most if not all the rest of the world. I mean there may be some countries who specialize in certain things and who are better than we are in certain areas. However, on a clogal scale, I don't think anybody has our broud capability to respond quickly and with huge volumes of aid or firepower at a moment's notice.

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