Environmental Security: A Guide to the Issues

By Elizabeth L. Chalecki | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Climate Change

Every effect from a destabilized society washes up on our shores sooner or later.

—Gen. Anthony Zinni (USMC ret.), 2007

I have not seen Al Gore’s movie.

—U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, February 2007

Our discussion of environmental security so far has focused mostly on the security implications of the environment as it is now. However, with our growing realization that human peacetime activities are changing the climate, we have to ask ourselves if it is still reasonable to assume that the future will look like the past. As we learn more about the way the earth’s very complicated climate system works, we begin to realize that the entire future of our development, including our security, may fall along a different path than the one we currently envision.

Climate change, also referred to as global warming, is driven by the enhanced greenhouse effect. Ultraviolet light from the sun passes through earth’s atmosphere; some of it is reflected back from clouds and other surfaces, and some is absorbed by land and water. This latter portion is then reradiated from the earth’s surface as infrared heat. Some of the heat escapes the atmosphere and some is trapped by the atmosphere, resulting in a warmer planetary surface. The earth’s atmosphere acts like the glass in a greenhouse, letting in most of the light but trapping much of the heat. Without this atmospheric phenomenon, life would not exist on earth, but as humans emit increasing amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), the “glass” in the atmosphere is getting thicker and is holding in more heat than it has in the last 10,000 years (IPCC AR4 WGI

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