THE BLOG

Crisis in the Situation Room

05/25/2011 01:08 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2011
  • Lise Van Susteren Psychiatrist; Board of Directors, National Wildlife Federation; Advisor, Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment

Are we safe yet?

With the thrill at the ballsy taking out of bin Laden last week, the sobering questions about what awaits us have returned. Will new leaders emerge from the franchise cells? Is this the beginning of the end for al Qaeda? Some say we are at great risk in the short term.

Predicting the threats from terrorist groups, alas, is not a science. And for all ordinary citizens may worry, it's not in our hands.

But al Qaeda and OBL types are not the main problem.

Were it not for our obliviousness, it would be good news that predicting the threat of our main problem is based on science, and protecting us from it is in our hands.

Already in April 2007, 11 retired Generals and Admirals were warning us:

General Gordon R. Sullivan: USA (Ret.) Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
Admiral Frank "Skip" Bowman: USN (Ret.) Former Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program; Former Deputy Administrator-Naval Reactors, National Nuclear Security Administration
Lieutenant General Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.: USAF (Ret.) Former Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force
Vice Admiral Paul G. Gaffney II,: USN (Ret.) Former President, National Defense University; Former Chief of Naval Research and Commander, Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command
General Paul J. Kern: USA (Ret.) Former Commanding General, U.S. Army Materiel Command
Admiral T. Joseph Lopez: USN (Ret.) Former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and of Allied Forces, Southern Europe
Admiral Donald L. "Don" Pilling: USN (Ret.) Former Vice Chief of Naval Operations
Admiral Joseph W. Prueher: USN (Ret.) Former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) and Former U.S. Ambassador to China
Vice Admiral Richard H. Truly: USN (Ret.) Former NASA Administrator, Shuttle Astronaut and the first Commander of the Naval Space Command
General Charles F. "Chuck" Wald: USAF (Ret.) Former Deputy Commander, Headquarters U.S. European Command
General Anthony C. "Tony" Zinni: USMC (Ret.) Former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command

They have appeared before Congress to talk about the most serious threat facing us.

"We will pay for this one way or another", General Zinni has said.

Climate change ... is a serious risk factor for triggering massive migrations, increased border tensions, greater demands for rescue and evacuation efforts, and conflicts over essential resources, including food and water -- that could ultimately lead to direct U.S. military involvement.

"In the long term, we want to address the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit," Admiral Lopez says. "But climate change will prolong those conditions. It makes them worse."

A secret Pentagon document from the Office of Net Assessment "outed" in 2004 warned that global warming ...was a bigger threat to America's national security than terrorism.

The answer to the question of whether we will be safe in the future? It all depends on us. And what we do about our carbon emissions.

As a psychiatrist with more than 20 years of experience, I know that smart, good people may not use common sense. I have seen the consequences. Common sense is a capacity emanating from the frontal lobes, an area of the brain lying behind the forehead. The frontal lobes take raw data and wild messages from every corner of the brain (e.g. me first, right now, who cares) and turns them into appropriate, measured, considerate messages that "talk us" into good decisions. It is our own internal "situation room," weighing the pros and cons and determining best strategies for right now and long into the future. How people are affected by our decisions is a top consideration. MRIs show that the frontal lobes of teenagers are slow to "fill in." Parents in the face of particularly stupid, dangerous, or otherwise egregious behaviors from their teenagers know this from the blank look they get after shrieking what were you thinking. They weren't thinking anything, really. Not much is going on in their frontal lobes.

As I listen to the conversation about our national security in the light of recent events, I can't help thinking about frontal lobes and common sense.

Americans make up 5 percent of the world's population. We put up 25 percent of the world's green house gases. The floods and droughts, wildfires and extreme weather events that were not so long ago predicted are now upon us. Nuclear-armed Pakistan saw 20 million people displaced by massive flooding. The fires in Russia last year blew out the wheat crop, causing food prices to skyrocket, triggering massive rioting by people who spend most of their income on food. Australia has been besieged by floods and droughts. 240 of the 242 counties in Texas report fires, two weeks ago 340 people died in the worst spate of tornadoes the U.S. has ever seen. Now the Mississippi River is reaching the highest levels of flooding in history.

No respected expert doubts the links to climate change.

As the global situation darkens from the ravages of climate change, what will the world think of us? What will we think of ourselves? At an African Union summit the President of Uganda said, ""We have a message here to tell these countries, that you are causing aggression to us by causing global warming." In Bolivia, after the second year in a row of rains so heavy massive flooding caused deaths and widespread destruction, President Morales blamed global warming and said those countries who were driving up green house gases and didn't pay for the damage would be sued in international court.

"Unstable governments are at risk of failing and falling into the hands of terrorists," warns Lt. General Dan Christman. "As the U.S. military looks ahead to the likely causes of war in the next 30 years, global warming is front and center."

From NASA, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Dr. James Hansen says: "We have already gone too far. We must draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide ... time is running out."

As I listened to the talking heads reporting on what was happening in Abbottabad, I thought about these generals and admirals and scientists and wondered why we aren't making more of an effort to get THEM on TV?

The daring and courage of last week is in a category by itself.

But we will never be safe if we are giving terrorist groups a new recruiting message with global warming.

Enough with balls. We need to grow some frontal lobes.

Lise Van Susteren, M.D. is a psychiatrist in private practice in Washington D.C. She is member of the Board of Directors of the National Wildlife Federation and serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Email: lvs350@verizon.net