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Steve Clemons

Steve Clemons

Posted: February 18, 2007 10:21 AM

Confronting the Greatest Market Failure in History: National Security & Climate Change


scowcroft legacy.jpg

I have just discovered that former National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush, General Brent Scowcroft, is on the board of directors of Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection. Cool.

Enough have persuasively argued that systemic planetary climate change is underway and represents an existential threat to our political and social systems -- as well as to humankind -- that I don't need to repeat all this.

But there haven't been many -- that I know of -- who have really begun to seriously think through the national security and political dimensions of climate change. The analyses I have seen tend to speak to audiences that are already climate change policy advocates.

One very good piece written by a top tier national security commentator and colleague of mine, Anatol Lieven, pondered climate change's social and political impact in his oped, "The End of the West as We Know It?"

Here is a bit of the Lieven article that ran December 28th last year:

Every political, social and economic system ever created has sooner or later encountered a challenge that its very nature has made it incapable of meeting.

The Confucian ruling system of imperial China, which lasted for more than 2,000 years, has some claim still to be the most successful in history, but because it was founded on values of stability and continuity, rather than dynamism and inventiveness, it eventually proved unable to survive in the face of Western imperial capitalism.

For market economies, and the Western model of democracy with which they have been associated, the existential challenge for the foreseeable future will be global warming. Other threats like terrorism may well be damaging, but no other conceivable threat or combination of threats can possibly destroy our entire system. As the recent British official commission chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern correctly stated, climate change "is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen."

The question now facing us is whether global capitalism and Western democracy can follow the Stern report's recommendations, and make the limited economic adjustments necessary to keep global warming within bounds that will allow us to preserve our system in a recognizable form; or whether our system is so dependent on unlimited consumption that it is by its nature incapable of demanding even small sacrifices from its present elites and populations.

If the latter proves the case, and the world suffers radically destructive climate change, then we must recognize that everything that the West now stands for will be rejected by future generations. The entire democratic capitalist system will be seen to have failed utterly as a model for humanity and as a custodian of essential human interests.

The Lieven article is important in that he doesn't write much about climate change.

Scowcroft Military Academy.jpg
(Brent Scowcroft -- a West Point graduate, Air Force General, and National Security Advisor -- now focusing on challenge of climate change)

Brent Scowcroft is a shrewd, no-nonsense military and geopolitical strategist. He is no climate change expert, but he knows the subject is a vital one for great nations to collectively wrestle down.

It's important to get generals, strategists, national security types in general thinking about climate change in their roster of threats facing the nation -- and to consider comprehensive national and international strategies to diminish that threat.

Shanghai has just announced that it will host one of Al Gore's global climate change cncerts called the "Save our Selves Concerts." It will be interesting to see if China get a good chunk of its big miltary types to attend -- and whether the American city that is eventually announced can also attract some military and national security bureaucrats to attend -- even for the symbolic value.

Proceeds from these concerts will go to The Alliance for Climate Protection, which Brent Scowcroft helps provide some direction to. It is very good to see someone like Scowcroft in the mix.

It will also be interesting to see how Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth does next weekend at the Academy Awards.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note