Chicken Little vs. The Ostrich

The British newspaper The Observer yesterday published a story entitled “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us.” It’s the sort of sensationalism you’d expect from the title, full of conspiracies and secret reports and the end of the world by 2020. Unfortunately, their story seems to be getting more coverage than the more complete story that came out in Fortune Magazine after the Pentagon supplied them with a copy of the unclassified “secret report” that The Observer gushes about.

At least in the US, the Global Climate change debate is too often framed by Chicken Littles like The Observer and ostriches like our own president. The reality is that there is a growing consensus among scientists that global warming is real, is largely attributable to human activities, and will continue over the next century. However, there are also a lot of unknowns, and the “Abrupt Climate Change” scenario described in the cited report is one that has been highlighted in recent years by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

We don’t know how likely an abrupt climate change is, but the Pentagon report describes its own worst-case scenario as unlikely. Chicken Littles can come out of their fallout shelters and wipe off the 10,000 SPF sunscreen. However, our nation’s leaders need to stop sticking their heads in the sand about these potential dangers. A footlocker-sized nuke going off in New York is unlikely, but it’s a big concern in Washington and rightly so. A repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic in the next few years is also unlikely, but boy am I glad the CDC is on the case. Homeland security is all about evaluating threats and doing what’s necessary to limit our risk. That’s a lesson every large company knows, and a lesson the Pentagon has always taken to heart. Now if we could just get our president to wise up.