Phoney war ends as military eyes up new ecological foe

Late last year, Village magazine carried a cracking article entitled ‘Our deluded ESRI’, which opened as follows: “Patchy and boosterist forecasting, unquestioning neo-liberalism, an unempirical attitude to science and systemic ambivalence to environmentalism taint the performance of this apparently domestically-unassailable Irish institution”.

The author of that piece, Adrian Kelleher, did a particular public service in deconstructing the modus operandi of the ESRI’s Dr Richard Tol, a chameleon figure who is on the one hand presented as a mainstream ‘climate expert’ (usually by himself, admittedly, and mainly in a pseudo-science known as ‘climate economics’). The busy Dr Tol finds time to also be a member of the grandly titled ‘Academic Advisory Council‘ of a right wing climate denialist lobby front called the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It masquerades as a charity so the identity of its energy industry paymasters can be kept from public scrutiny.

Meanwhile, I am delighted that, after an extended absence from the fray, Adrian Kelleher returns today with the contribution below for ThinkOrSwim:


At the time of writing Google throws up about 1.43 million pages with the exact phrase “global warming alarmism”, so it is already a cliché. The site Wattsupwiththat alone features alarmism no fewer than 15,200 times, alarmist 6,720 times and warmist on 3,610 occasions. Like the question “how long since you stopped beating your wife?” these words are designed to convey an implication but in a way that evades responsibility.

A typical claim is that environmental NGOs exaggerate scientific facts to try and mobilise opinion. Certainly there are some very unsettling scenarios out there. One study speculated that a “world of warring states” will emerge and that “disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life” with many countries driven to develop nuclear weapons if the uncertainty in current climate projections turns out to conceal powerful feedback mechanisms.

Another pointed out that “lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching unprecedented proportions in many areas of the world”, that the global food supply is in serious jeopardy and claimed that within 15 years “perceptions of a rapidly changing environment may cause nations to take unilateral actions to secure resources, territory, and other interests”. It only got gloomier from there, stating that “scientists are currently uncertain whether we already have hit a tipping point at which climate change has accelerated and whether there is little we can do … Most scientists believe we will not know whether we have hit a tipping point until it is too late”.

It goes on to project a scenario where, in the wake of a weather event of unprecedented severity occurring within just 10 years, the US president writes in his diary that “the scenes were like the stuff from the World War II newsreels, only this time it was not Europe but Manhattan…”. The fictional president is left to regretfully ponder his own failures: “the problem has been our whole attitude about globalization… we have not prepared sufficiently for the toll that irresponsible growth is having on the environment”. American presidents are not known for placing the words “irresponsible” and “growth” side by side, so do these studies reflect extremist NGOs frightening the public with overblown claims?

The two studies quoted originated in reality within different offices at the Pentagon. They represent the fear among military thinkers that threats to peace may loom that cannot be bombed or shot at. The first was a leaked report prepared by the Office of Net Assessment, a blue-skies intelligence and theoretical think tank at the core of the US military headed by Andrew Marshall who has served eight presidents in the post. The second was “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World” by the National Intelligence Council.

Marshall, a figure whose public reticence belies his centrality to the American military, has been at the core of US strategic thinking since he worked alongside luminaries like John Von Neumann and John Nash (who was portrayed by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”) at RAND in the 1950s and 60s, not to mention the real-life model for Dr Strangelove, Herman Kahn. When they weren’t trying to figure out what percentage society could endure of infants mutated in the wake of a nuclear exchange or how to maximise the number of Soviet fatalities, the RAND faculty made contributions of first-rate importance to economics and mathematics.

Marshall was appointed Director of Net Assessment by Nixon in 1973, where people like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were his protegΘes. There, he took charge of “transformation”, something as sweeping as it sounds: a re-imagination of the military as an information-centric institution which Donald Rumsfeld viewed as his crowning achievement. It’s difficult to imagine someone further removed than the ultra-hawk Marshall, who is 90 this year, from the tofu-eating, kaftan-wearing hippie jealous of “wealth creators” that is sceptics’ stereotypical environmentalist.

The National Intelligence Council is described as a “center of strategic thinking within the US Government” and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, a four-star general or equivalent and the USA’s highest-ranking intelligence figure.

Global Trends isn’t the only NIC publication that worries about the strains that global warming will place on world peace. It commissioned a series of reports on climate impacts on developing countries. The one devoted to China cautions that within 20 years water stresses “may impact [its] social, economic, and political stability to a great extent”, notes that it has already experienced more extreme weather events of every kind recently than ever before and that these currently have direct costs of around $30Bn annually.

The military is one of the Republican Party’s most reliable voting blocks. The Military Times conducts occasional surveys of serving troops and its most recent one reported that just 8.4% considered themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” compared with 45.8% who replied “conservative” or “very conservative”. More than three times as many personnel reported being Republican as did Democrat. Officers were even more likely than the average to be Republican and it seems reasonable to assume that this pattern holds true of senior intelligence staff.

In recent years the Republican Party has set itself against the scientific establishment not just in relation to climate change but regarding a whole range of issues. The Bush presidency was accused of manipulating scientific data regarding stem cells, AIDS, homosexuality, deforestation and mining as well as fossil fuel use and its effects.

Why has the US intelligence community not succumbed to the Republican Party’s hostility to climate science? Part of the reason is that it has long and bitter experience of political interference, its effects on the accuracy and credibility of its work and implications for national security, a story that also includes RAND.

In the late 1950s, the collegiate world of American intelligence broke down as senior air force figures conspired with certain Republican politicians to exaggerate Soviet strength. The politicians then used the distorted figures to press for more military funding. Political pressure was exerted on other intelligence sources and their work was subject to constant criticism, causing their assessments in turn to become ever more inaccurate.

RAND was entrusted with optimising the size, structure and doctrine of the USA’s nuclear arsenal but as the figures it was fed grew more unrealistic, garbage in garbage out caused its results to become progressively more misleading. The result was serious damage to the strategic security of the United States, not to mention the waste of vast sums of money on poorly-selected weapons. Much of the wasted money ended up in the hands of corrupt defence contractors that were later shown to have routinely paid bribes at home and abroad, and the episode influenced Eisenhower’s famous farewell speech where he warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex”.

The entire process was repeated in the 1970s when Republicans including Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld created a special group called Team B which distorted intelligence about Soviet missile strengths, once again resulting in squandered resources and funds being diverted to counter imaginary threats. The mutual incomprehension between the superpowers that was an enduring, dangerous and destabilising feature of the Cold War was thus aggravated during one of its most tense periods in the early 1980s.

In the run up to the Iraq war, Dick Cheney inserted a political team into the top of the CIA called the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Following a familiar script, the OSP laundered intelligence until it suited the objectives of the administration, showing what Bush and Cheney wanted to be true: that Saddam Hussein had secret nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes that threatened the world. Colin Powell was then handed a dossier of phoney intelligence and sent to the UN to justify the invasion.

When he found he had been exploited, Powell was embittered. “There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good,” he said later, “…they didn’t speak up. That devastated me”.

By this time, however, the trick was getting old and the CIA soon felt the blowback of public outrage. Repeated exploitation as tools of right-wing politicians caused a backlash among staff. One CIA officer went on the record to describe Cheney’s OSP as “a threat to world peace”, adding that it “lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam. It’s a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality”.

Ironically repeated manipulation of intelligence for political ends may have helped inoculate its intelligence agencies against political illusions. Hard-headed and conservative, they are nonetheless aware of how dangerous the manipulation of their work proved over 5 decades.

Since the end of the Bush administration, which discouraged its discussion, study of the political implications of global warming has exploded in US security circles. The recent quadrennial defence review devoted significant attention to the topic. Even the CIA has opened a centre to study its effects, promising to fast-track declassification of satellite imagery of use to geophysicists when it did so.

While the US military is an especially voracious consumer of fossil fuels, its recognition of the problem’s existence provides environmentalists with a gilt edged debating point in arguments with sceptics. By digesting the issue on conservative terms, it suggests ways in which the cross-party consensus on climate that exists elsewhere might be translated to the USA.

It goes without saying that famine cannot be bombed with precision munitions and missiles are of no use against carbon dioxide. The inescapable logic of US long-term intelligence is that spending on the military should actually be reduced and money redirected to emissions control in order to promote stability.

Another logical conclusion is that while models might place a floor under the cost of impacts, any attempt to put a ceiling to the figure is doomed. To the ‘tail risk’ of so-called black swan events must be added the possibility that even much milder climate impacts could have disastrous results due to the interplay of economic, political and environmental factors. History is replete with cautionary examples of societies such as the Maya or the Garamantes which imploded under environmental pressure.

In recognising that economic growth as the sole and paramount objective of governments could prove a deadly trap they demonstrate political courage their civilian bosses would do well to emulate.

Global Trends 2025 also makes an important leap in considering how future leaders will understand the world. GHG pollution continues to be aggravated at an ever increasing rate with no end in sight. It may be that by 2025 it will be apparent that extreme consequences can no longer be avoided. That would alter the perceptions and behaviour of political leaders in ways it’s hard to imagine as benign. “Unilateral actions to secure resources, territory, and other interests” means war plain and simple — and plausibly within 15 years rather than sometime after mid-century.

If the upsurge in interest in climate change indicates anything, it’s the unreality of much of the climate change debate. For example reinsurance rates are soaring to accommodate anticipated climate related costs and if sceptics really believed in what they said, they’d invest in those businesses, undercut their competitors and make a fortune. It says volumes about the sincerity of their purported beliefs that they don’t. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no sceptics in insurance.

Likewise, while conservative politicians insist everything is fine the military professionals are preparing for dire implications. This isn’t just purely theoretical, for example designs of ships and aircraft are being re-examined and adapted to withstand more severe weather conditions.

In spite of all this it’s important to remember that alarmists really do exist, frightening the public with propaganda to dishonestly advance hidden agendas. Dick Cheney is chief among them. In fact global warming may be the only thing that does not alarm Cheney, a man inclined to fear that every rock in Asia might conceal a terrorist.

During his time in office he pressured the Centers for Disease Control until it edited to his liking a report to Congress on its health effects, deleting six pages. Not for the first time, he forced his “pre-determined notions of truth and reality” down the throats of the professionals.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
This entry was posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Sceptics. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Phoney war ends as military eyes up new ecological foe

  1. seafóid says:

    Webcam from the Swiss ski station of Villars

    Snow report from Swiss ski station of Ste Croix

    Bulletin des pistes (ski alpin): Ste-Croix / Les Rasses
    Km de pistes (ouvertes / total) 0 / 20 km Nombre de pistes locales 9
    Enneigement artificiel km aujourd’hui Pistes avec abo (sous-région) 20 km
    Etat des pistes Fermées Installations sous-régionales 2
    Etat de la neige pas d’info Piste de ski illuminée aujourd’hui pas d’info
    Pistes de descente jusqu’à la station 0 / 4 Piste de ski illuminée longueur pas d’info
    Pistes de descente jusqu’à (altitude) 0 m Installations en service à partir de
    Pistes de descente jusqu’à la station fermées Installations en service jusqu’à
    Installations (ouvertes / total) 0 / 9 Tél. information pistes 024/454.15.00
    Domaine de ski alpin surface 200000 m2

  2. John Gibbons says:

    Holy shit, that’s a LIVE webcam feed! When I viewed it earlier, looked at first glance like the Mars Rover had stumbled over the long-abandoned remains of a Martian ski slope, but yes, it’s the piste in Ste Croix right now (it’s almost December, and not a crystal of snow as far as the eye can see).

  3. seafóid says:

    It is just as bad in Chamonix in France

    This is visible at night time. Desperately sad -the Swiss ski station of Rougemont where they are already getting ready for the disappearance of the ski business as the climate changes

    Check out the ski cannon spewing artificial snow onto the field. But you need water for this and it hasn’t rained for 3 weeks…

  4. Ruairí says:

    John and seafóid,
    I checked out Villars-Cryon at The site reported and I quote “The webcams shown below are not always updated. Please check the date on the image to ensure you are seeing current conditions.” I could not find a date on the image. Could either of you?
    The site page stated-‘Resort not open’. Can either of you say for certain that this is unusual and late? I would like to see data on the opening date of this ski-slope for as many years as possible before rushing to judgement on this year’s opening.
    The site page also stated that the upper slopes had 20cm of snow and that the 7 day forecast is for 10cm of new snow on the upper slopes,8cm on the lower slopes and 3cm at the resort,which is expected on the 5th of December.
    We shall see,

  5. seafóid says:


    It is late. I was talking to a local (Swiss ) skier yesterday . He says there is a big problem.
    They need a layer of solid frozen snow at the base of the piste to ensure the piste is stable in the spring when the temperature rises. Normally this is laid down in November.

    Over the last few years the season has tended to be cut at the start and cut at the end due to the weather so the number of skiable months is reduced. Last year Villars shut 2 weeks before Easter, the first time he could remember such a thing happening. They couldn’t even keep it going with snow cannons. 2007 was also bad but the snow cannons kept things ticking over until Easter.

    He is worried for the industry. People will start taking holidays in the sun and lots of jobs will be lost.

    I asked him about the people on TV saying the snow will come. He says it’s to reassure people who have booked holidays. It reminds me of the fetish for growth. It will come. But nobody really knows. I think the people in the Alpine ski resorts are going to experience what the Indian tribes did when their livelihoods were taken away .

    This link is live with the date and time

  6. seafóid says:

    Over at the FT Christopher Caldwell wrote a Richard Tol style piece last Saturday.
    Some good comments below the article .

    Mark Pearce

    Interesting article.
    Now apply the same analysis of denial websites and advocates.
    You will find a heap of vanity and abuse.
    And, more importantly, pseudo science claims that are easily rebutted as nonsense. Or that would be readily rebutted, except many denial websites will delete any pro-climate change rebuttals of their content. No free speech for them.

    So, you highlight the private conversations of a few climate scientists who justifiably express frustration with the rubbish served up by the denial industry.
    But you do not apply the same scrutiny and calling to account of the denial camp, who conduct zero peer reviewed science and instead spout falsehoods and use deliberately misleading and out of context interpretations with impunity. Go and attack the bigger evil, demonstrate some balance and research capability in your journalism, instead of producing this biased kindergarten rhetoric.

    As for the anti-climate change comments below, they are full of prepostorously ignorant comments.
    … “the Sun drives our climate” – well yes, in part; but the sun is slowly cooling, and the planet is warming – a little inconveniently contradicting the shallow but seemingly attractive falsity that it is the sun alone that shapes our climate? Yes. And CO2 warming impacts explain how the planet is warming while the sun is cooling. Climate science takes solar variability and many other factors affecting climate into account, but shows that CO2 impacts are overiding other effects to create the warming effect that is measurable and significant.

    There are solutions to this well within our grasp. Foolish articles that create public uncertainty make it more difficult for politicians to commence the positive action required. That is your intent. You are wrong, immoral and ignorant to misrepresent the facts in such a jaundiced and biased way.

    …as well as pure bilge

  7. seafóid says:

    Super NYR article on BP and Macondo that covers capitalism and growth, corruption ,cost cutting and systemic risk and ends with this :

    “the peril posed by drilling is rising, because a new frontier beckons to the industry. Preliminary drilling has begun off Greenland in the Arctic Ocean, where the ecosystem is particularly fragile and spill-containment operations particularly difficult to accomplish, and the Obama administration has given conditional approval for Royal Dutch Shell to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska. Last summer, when icebergs threatened a drilling rig off Greenland, tugboats pulled them away. What happens if there are more icebergs than tugboats, or if the icebergs are too large to tow, or if a tug’s engine fails? The spokesmen for the industry, who insisted that a disaster like the BP blowout could not happen in the Gulf, say we can trust their companies in the Arctic. Their promises are even less comforting than the reassurances we hear from Wall Street about the impossibility of another financial crisis.

    Oil firms give codenames to their drilling sites, to throw rivals off the scent of where they are finding oil. The US government, when it sold a Gulf drilling lease to BP in 2008, called the site Block 252. BP, to help raise money for United Way, let its employees bid for the right to choose a codename; the winning group of employees decided on Macondo, after the town in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. No one could know how miserably appropriate the choice would be. Both García Márquez’s fictional town and BP’s Macondo were destroyed. The final twist of One Hundred Years of Solitude is relevant, too. A text that had been impenetrable is finally deciphered at the end of the novel. Written one hundred years earlier, it foretold the events that destroyed Macondo. When it comes to drilling for oil and the hazards of climate change, the texts that predict our future are accumulating. They are all too clear.”

  8. Ruairi says:

    It seems the ‘tv people’mentioned by your Swiss friend were not bluffing when they said the snow would come. Villars-Cryon is looking very inviting with fresh snow as far as the eye can see.
    I take the point of your original comment to be,that man-made CO2 emissions was causing global warming and therefore the late arrival of the snow on the ski-slopes.
    Had the slopes been inundated with feet of snow from early October,would you not have equally attributed this to climate disruption caused by man-made CO2 emissions ,(as others tried to do with last year’s record big freeze).
    My point is,that no matter what the weather or climate brings, the warmists will change terminology from Global Warming to Climate Change to Climate Disruption to Climate Chaos to Climate Catastrophy and blame any and everything on man-made CO2 emissions.

  9. seafóid says:

    The snow has arrived alright but the season was 2 weeks old before anything fell. Tune in mid March when it all melts again, 2 weeks before season close. Normally by now there would be several layers of solid snow on the pistes but there aren’t because it didn’t snow in November . With the regular setup the pistes are less vulnerable to avalanches. The snow is settled and isn’t moved around by wind.

    But this week there have been avalanches

    6 year old Spanish boy killed on a piste at Saas Fee

    What I don’t get about people in denial is that they don’t hedge their bets. The way to deal with systemic risk is not to bury your head in the sand.

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