Warning from a global team of scientists: Climate change is as threatening as nuclear war

The problem is as much about politics as it is about polar bears.
The problem is as much about politics as it is about polar bears.
Image: Gerard Van der Leun/ Creative Commons
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Gone are the days when talk of global destruction conjured images of nuclear bombs and mushroom clouds. Scientists are now warning that the modern-day parallel to the Cold Era threat of nuclear warfare is global warming.

A newly released report on the issue of climate change begins with a warning that countries should view it as they once viewed the specter of nuclear war: as a major threat to national and international security. The report, “Climate Change: a Risk Assessment,” was commissioned by the UK’s foreign office and cowritten by leading environmental scientists from all over the world.

The analysis reaffirms many well-documented assertions about climate change: Global temperatures are rising drastically, leading to rising sea levels as well as widespread drought and famine, which threaten human lives on all continents, especially in developing nations.

Increasing rates of greenhouse gas emissions are the leading cause of rising global temperatures, which the authors say are likely to increase by at least 2°C in this century but may rise as high as 7°C in the 22nd century.

Those changes, the authors assert,  would “increase the risks of state failure in states that are already highly water-stressed or food insecure, at the same time as suffering from poverty, social tensions, and poor governance.”

North Africa and the Middle East would be particularly vulnerable, the report states, since terrorist activity in those regions could exacerbate environmental problems. The calamitous effects of climate change could force millions of people to migrate from the most affected regions, destabilizing borders and leading to a global humanitarian crisis.

Joyce Anelay, the UK’s minister of state for its Foreign and Commonwealth Office, warned in the report that states must develop policies and strategies that go beyond reducing carbon emissions to address the political and security ramifications.

The future isn’t apocalyptic, though, according to the report. Technological innovation and smart policy decisions could yet reverse the forces of global warming. “An honest assessment of risk,” it concludes, “is no reason for fatalism.”