There are many good reasons to prevent damaging climate change; but among the most compelling is on ground well known to conservatives: the need to safeguard national security. A changing climate has profound implications for geopolitics. As the past six months of war in Ukraine have taught us, war and conflict anywhere has affects which appear everywhere. A changing climate could produce many of those events.
Higher temperatures are predicted to reduce agricultural productivity in parts of Africa by substantial amounts. The need to reduce carbon pollution, meanwhile, will in the short term reduce the availability of energy and – without replacement with green sources – raise the price of power. If temperatures rise precipitously, droughts will become more common and crippling.
Without power, food and water, the competition between states will increase.
Many countries, with few alternatives, will likely use coercive measures to secure the final remnants of fuel, fresh water and even land. Some may even use false pretences, like those invented by Russia this year, or by China periodically when contemplating the conquest of Taiwan, to go to war to secure resources.
The prospect of climate change has not led to demographic change. The very countries most forecast to suffer the ill effects of global warming – many of which are already badly governed and poor – many of them will see their populations double or triple this century.
A world where less developed, climate-affected countries experience explosive population growth is also a world of violence between states. And not only violence by conventional means.
As the stakes heighten, we will likely see more states reach for more dramatic tools, including the development of weapons of mass destruction. This includes chemical and biological weapons (whose usefulness have been demonstrated by Russian chemical attacks in Britain, and the profound destruction caused by a virus in the form of the covid pandemic).
Waiting also in the wings is the ultimate deterrent: nuclear weapons – an insurance policy against potential adversaries as conflict becomes more and more likely, especially for states that they do not possess traditional military capabilities.
Even if nuclear weapons are not actually built at scale, they can still prove a dangerous prospect. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that within in the next few decades we will see many of what are called ‘virtual nuclear powers’ (nations that are able to develop the raw material, expertise, technology and know-how to construct an atomic device, but refrain from crossing the precipice for reasons of practicality or politics). Virtual or not, as Iran and North Korea show, even a theoretical nuclear armoury can cause global chaos and multiply other acts of violence.
Violence between states, the growth of weapons of mass destruction: all of this makes the prospect of global conflict more salient. War consumes resources and makes countries poor, and it prompts mass movement of people – another damaging consequence of a world in which climate change makes conflict more likely.
Restricting the rise in global temperatures, therefore, is the only thing a prudent – and conservative – national security strategy can recommend.
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