18 April 2007

Global Climate Change: Global Warming, Security Risks, and "Children of Men"

What a vacation I had. We didn't go to Florida, which is our usual spring break activity, and regretted it almost immediately as temperatures dropped and the weather was more like early March than late April. My vacation started in Washington, DC, on the eve of the release of the IPCC report, and ended with a nor'easter hitting Philadelphia and surrounding areas with record rainfall, as a report was released about the potential security risks of global warming.

Somewhere in between, we rented "Children of Men," Alfonso Cuarón's stunning film about a chaotic world in which human beings are sterile and a former activist (brilliantly played by Clive Owen) helps transport a suddenly and miraculously pregnant woman -- the first in 18 years -- to meet a ship called "Tomorrow" at sea. Once there, it is implied, her child's birth may help scientists from "The Human Project," save the future of the species.

Watching the film and especially after, I couldn't help reflecting on the images of global collapse, chaos and ruin. It's a remarkable piece, not to mention a tour-de-force for Owen. The art direction stays with you and is neither as stylized as "Mad Max" nor as computer-generated as "The Day After Tomorrow." It's a world we see on CNN, beamed from Iraq; only it is London 2027, and that western familiarity makes it all the more frightening. It could be your home or mine.

In the film, marginal societies have totally collapsed and their dwindling populations emigrate to (or invade) England and other wealthy nations. The illegals --- "fugees," as they are called in the film -- are rounded up, imprisoned in cages, and transported to a refugee camp. (There's not a few images reminiscent of Abu Ghraib in there too, as a reminder of how non-extreme the film's world is.)

The report published Monday "explores ways projected climate change is a 'threat multiplier' in already fragile regions, exacerbating conditions that lead to failed states — the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism."

The report, commissioned by the Center for Naval Analyses, a government-financed research group, and written by a group called the Military Advisory Board, recommends climate change be considered in the country's security plans. According to the report, the U.S. "should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability."

Comparisons to Somalia in the early 1990s were drawn by Peter Schwartz, a scenario-planning consultant, in an article about the report in Sunday's New York Times, “'You had disruption driven by drought, leading to the collapse of a society, humanitarian relief efforts, and then disastrous U.S. military intervention. That event is prototypical of the future.'

“'Picture that in Central America or the Caribbean, which are just as likely,' he said. 'This is not distant, this is now. And we need to be preparing.'”

Watch "Children of Men," if you want to see what one potential scenario of global warming looks like. And then pledge to yourself, your kids, and your community that you won't allow it to happen.

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