National Research Council: “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis”

”There is compelling reason to presume that specific failures of adaptation [to climate change] will occur with consequences more severe than any yet experienced, severe enough to compel more extensive international engagement than has yet been anticipated or organized.”


The National Research Council is the principle operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. The entire summary of the study:

Core features of the climate change situation are known with confidence. The greenhouse effect associated with the carbon dioxide molecule has been measured, as has the dwell time of that molecule and its concentration in the atmosphere. We also know that the rate at which carbon dioxide is currently being added to the atmosphere substantially exceeds the natural rate that prevailed before the rise of human societies. That means that a large and unprecedentedly rapid thermal impulse is being imparted to the earth’s ecology that will have to be balanced in some fashion. We know beyond reasonable doubt that the consequences will be extensive. We do not, however, know the timing, magnitude, or character of those consequences with sufficient precision to make predictions that meet scientific standards of confidence.


In principle the thermal impulse could be mitigated to a degree that would presumably preserve the current operating conditions of human societies, but the global effort required to do that is not being undertaken and cannot be presumed. As a practical matter, that means that significant burdens of adaptation will be imposed on all societies and that unusually severe climate perturbations will encountered in some parts of the world over the next decade with an increasing frequency and severity thereafter. There is compelling reason to presume that specific failures of adaptation will occur with consequences more severe than any yet experienced, severe enough to compel more extensive international engagement than has yet been anticipated or organized.

This report has been prepared at the request of the U.S. intelligence community with these circumstances in mind. It summarizes what is currently known about the security effects of climate perturbations, admitting the inherent complexities and the very considerable uncertainties involved. But under the presumption that these effects will be of increasing significance, it outlines the monitoring activities that the intelligence community should be developing in support of improved anticipation, more effective prevention efforts, and more decisive emergency reaction when that becomes necessary.

Figure 1-1 illustrates the evolution of the distribution of the Northern Hemisphere land Temperature Anomaly for Jun-Aug.


TADhistogram.gif

The report makes some recommendations regarding monitoring:

As we have also noted, the connections between climate events and national security concerns are complex and contingent, with many plausible combinations of climatic events with social, economic, and political conditions that might create risks to U.S. national security. These risks are unlikely to be foreseen by looking only at climate trends and projections or by looking only at political and social trends and projections. To anticipate the risks, analysis needs to integrate three kinds and sources of knowledge: (1) knowledge of political and socioeconomic conditions in countries of interest, (2) knowledge from climate science about the potential exposure of these countries to climate events, and (3) knowledge from social science about the susceptibility of these countries to be harmed by those events and the likelihood of effective coping, response, and recovery at local to national levels. These sources of knowledge come from different communities of experts, which will need to communicate with each other. Making this happen will take time and continued effort.

And yet, we are currently on the wrong path, as the report’s lead author noted in a NYT article:

Yet Mr. Steinbruner said that as the need for more and better analysis is growing, government resources devoted to them are shrinking. Republicans in Congress objected to the C.I.A.’s creation of a climate change center and tried to deny money for it. The American weather satellite program is losing capability because of years of underfinancing and mismanagement, imperiling the ability to predict and monitor major storms.

For instance the last Republican House budget would have reduced funding for NOAA, which in turn operates the satellites that monitor weather. [1]


sandy-space_2382471b.jpg

Source: N. Collins, “Hurricane Sandy: what is causing the ‘Frankenstorm’?” Telegraph, Nov 11, 2012.

More on global climate change from the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences: [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


For the few people who still think there is a lack of consensus on anthropogenic sources of global climate change (and probably still think the polls were biased against Mitt Romney, and that a shadowy conspiracy in the BLS rigged the September employment statistics), see here.

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26 thoughts on “National Research Council: “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis”

  1. Steven Kopits

    Well, US oil consumption is at 1977 levels and declining by 1.6% per annum.
    How fast do you think it should decline?

  2. CoRev

    Menzie, the late 70s were the transition point from a 30 year cooling Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) to its 30 year warming cycle. That cycle is clear in the temp records. The date also coincides with the start of the satellite collection era.
    The issue is not whether there is AGW, but how much is it? Natural impacts are clear. 1998 was a major el Nino year, and ?coincidentally? a record hot year. Ensuing la Ninas also saw cool years. So Oceans have significant influence over temps.
    What to me is one of the travesties of the climate studies is the reliance on short term data of ~130 year duration, which incidentally started as we came out of the Little Ice Age. But the real travesty is ignoring the data available for this interglacial which shows we are actually in a very long term cooling trend similar to other interglacials. http://jonova.s3.amazonaws.com/graphs/lappi/gisp-last-10000-new.png
    Now that liberals have their president still in office they feel secure in chasing the GW bouncing ball. Go at it. You deserve the opportunity, but be aware of that 60 year cycle. We are at another inflection point similar to the 70s when some were claiming an upcoming ice age.

  3. Jack

    Manzie,
    Given the clarity of the data you provided on global warming, would you be willing to comment on why coastal cities like New York were so woefully unprepared for a barely-above-tropical-storm-status Sandy? I mean, it’s not like the NY Times hasn’t been harping on the “global warming-rising oceans” drum for at least a decade or more.
    Thanks.

  4. Johannes

    Menzie, did not I tell you that Al Gore has been retired already ? Visit me at St. Barth and I will show you his landing stage.
    My dear mate, you have catched the wrong bus.

  5. tj

    We do not, however, know the timing, magnitude, or character of those consequences with sufficient precision to make predictions that meet scientific standards of confidence.
    Yet we are asked to spend trillions of dollars in mitigation.
    Let’s use our heads. If we can provide tax credits (not subsidies or handouts) that incent investment in renewable energy and pollution reducing capital, then do it. But we don’t need another Obama MANDATE or a carbon tax.

  6. KevinM

    Climate change does not have to be a partisan political issues. People on Both sides are working to make it one.

  7. ppcm

    Reading post and comments lead to a thread of questions:
    q=mC(delta)T Is oil a factor of the heat problem, when and where does it matter ?
    Milankovich theory is an absentee thanks to the short time series of temperatures as outlined in the post.Social stresses through climate changes are at the forefront of geologists and historians theories when it comes to explain climate changes and civilizations (Pharaonic, Khmers, Maya. Etc)
    In defense of the post content and its time series.
    Should climatologic studies require time trenches of thousand years, why would economists not be entilted to a time frame of 249 days or eight months when studying picks and through of business cycles? The easier answer to all questions.

  8. CoRev

    Menzie ends his article with the traditional straw man argument: “For the few people who still think there is a lack of consensus on anthropogenic sources of global climate change…”. Who denies the human impact to temperature increase? What we often see from the “believer” community is denial of well proven Urban Heat Island. Instead they claim it is covered in the homogenization processing (huge smearing of data averages temporally and spatially).
    The message? Trust us!!!!!! Nope! Haven’t earned it.

  9. Brian

    I thought that in your public policy courses you taught cost-benefit analysis. The problem I have with doing much about climate change is that I haven’t seen any rigorous, detailed tally of what precisely the costs to the world are of doing nothing and how much it would cost in terms of harm to the economy, way of life, etc., if we accept some of the more extreme proposals. Climate-change advocates seem to assume the cost of doing nothing is infinite, so that we must absolutely do “something”. But if we, say, ban the internal combustion engine, to use an extreme example, what will that do to the world economy and peoples’ incomes? Might it be less expensive to just build buildings to deal with more extreme weather and relocate agricultural production to other areas? It’s the “oh my god the sky is falling we must do something NOW” attitude that bothers me. Those people seem to never be willing to give an -honest- appraisal of what the alternatives are.

  10. Menzie Chinn

    Steve Kopits: Not everything is about oil; coal is also important. Emission of other GHGs sometimes unrelated to energy production is also of relevance.

    Bruce Hall: If you understood what log scales do, you wouldn’t have written what you wrote. Geez. Onto substance; the reference you provided was interesting, but I wouldn’t have truncated the sample. Rather I would have used a structural break test to see if the change in trend (either deterministic or stochastic) was statistically significant. This seems important given the high noise-to-signal ratio at high frequencies. Wrt to longer samples, see this post.

    Brian: To clarify: I don’t teach benefit-cost analysis (I’m a macroeconomist), although I believe it’s a useful tool (with limitations — lot of subtleties involved). In any case, I don’t know what wild-eyed people you speak to who advocate eliminating internal combustion engines (that seems like a straw man to me if ever there was). Rather, we want to set marginal social cost equal to marginal social benefit by way of implicit taxes and subsidies. At least, those are the views of the people I talk with.

    Rich Berger: You’re making an assessment of winning/losing based on volume of comments? Well, go with that if it makes you feel better. Oh, and those election polls are still biased!

  11. tj

    Do those cost benefit analyses (Brian notes above), account for a decrease in strong and violent tornadoes when you compare post 1980 to pre 1980?
    http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/images/tornado/clim/EF3-EF5.png
    Do those cost benefit analyses account for a decrease in the frequency of tropical storms and major hurricanes over the last 40 years?
    http://policlimate.com/tropical/frequency_12months.png
    Did you know that “sea surface temperature anomalies of Sandy’s storm track (12N-40N, 80W-70W) haven’t warmed since 1938, when the another super storm hit the Northeast U.S. See Figure 1.”
    http://bobtisdale.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/figure-1.png?w=640&h=419
    Now think to yourself for a minute. How many times in the past year or two, after every major storm, have you heard/read/seen a climate scientist, or the media, claim man-made global warming is the cause of more tornadoes, more hurricanes, super storm Sandy?
    Now you know why these folks have earned the name “alarmist”. They ignore the fact that the data directly contradict their claims for each case above, yet they continue to use these events to create fear in the minds of the public.
    Yes, the globe is getting warmer. Yes, most scientists and skeptics agree the earth is getting warmer.
    When you hear the term “global warming” do you automatically think “man-made”?
    How did that happen?

  12. 2slugbaits

    Steven Kopits Yes, oil consumption in the US is down from where it was 35 years ago. But globally oil consumption is up. CO2 does not observe national boundaries.
    Brian haven’t seen any rigorous, detailed tally of what precisely the costs to the world are of doing nothing and how much it would cost in terms of harm to the economy, way of life, etc., if we accept some of the more extreme proposals.
    There are plenty of sources. Nordhaus and Pindyck tend to look at “mean” or “most likely” scenarios, which tend to be less gloomy for the US, although not necessarily so for the undeveloped world. Weitzman focuses on the fact that temperature deviations are “fat-tailed,” and therefore we should worry more about what happens at the 5% tail more than fuss about what happens at the mean point estimate. Menzie’s Figure 1-1 tends to support the Weitzman view because each decade we keep moving into the right tail of that decade’s conditional distribution.
    There’s also a fair amount of evidence about the impact of global warming on agriculture. In short, it might be good news in the unlikely event that temperatures only go up one or two degrees Celsius. A more likely outcome is that corn, soybean and rice yields collapse. And don’t pin your hopes on farmers planting crops that are more heat tolerant. The reason is that farmers respond to yearly variation and not climate change. The cost of planting heat tolerant crops is a short-run loser because short-run variability is greater than climate change variability. And there is no evidence that farmers are in fact adjusting to the reality of climate change. For example, see: “Is Agricultural Production Becoming More or Less Sensitive to Extreme Heat? Evidence from U.S. Corn and Soybean Yields,” Michael Roberts (NC State University) & Wolfram Schlenker (Columbia University), Aug 2010.
    I think you’re overstating for effect the kinds of things that need to be done to avert disaster. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be some pain, but it is definitely doable. For example, if you review the literature I think you’ll find that spending 2%-3% of global GDP on “green” initiatives would get us most if not all of the way there. It would certainly cover the mean point estimates. Obama’s cap & trade plan would have been a good start.
    Dean Baker had it right when he pointed out all of these Tea Party types that claim to be so-o-o-o concerned about the deficit on future generations, but stick their heads in the sand when it comes to climate change. The two costs are not even remotely comparable. If you’re truly concerned about saddling future generations with deficits, then you really ought to be wigged out about saddling future generations with greenhouse gases.
    CoRev Still peddling that stupid crap about urban heat islands and long term cooling and 30 year cycles, blah, blah, blah. All of those issues have been addressed and ultimately dismissed.

  13. Steven Kopits

    Indeed, you are right, Menzie. Coal is important.
    US coal consumption is now down 12% (2011 full year, vs 2007 full year, BP Statistical Review, 2012).
    Meanwhile, China added a US equivalent of coal consumption in the five years to 2007, and another US equivalent of coal consumption in the five years to 2012.
    So my question then is, are your comments addressed to China, or to the US? What policies are you suggesting? Is it domestic energy policy or US foreign policy with respect to China, or Chinese domestic policy?
    In truth, the US is pretty much on track to meet its Kyoto non-obligations. But at a high price.

  14. Steven Kopits

    Now, as for the role of oil. Jim has indicated oil is involved in 10 of the last 11 recessions. Importantly, however, academic research has focused on oil shocks, not chronic oil shortages. Jim has proposed an “inoculation theory” of oil shocks, which I actually found pretty compelling, and elaborate on it a bit more specifically in “Consumers, Not Speculators, Cause Oil Shocks”. In this article, I propose that price inelasticity of demand is caused by i) a belief that an oil price rise is transient, ii) a belief that future incomes rises will offset increased costs, and/or iii) a reduction in other costs (perhaps capital costs) which gives the impression that a rising oil price can be offset with lower costs elsewhere.
    When these conditions pertain, consumers will be too slow to change their behavior and largely accept an oil price rise rather than reduce consumption. Hence, an oil price shock can be propagated by either a supply or demand shock without need of speculators.
    So far, so good–at least if you accept this line of thinking. But if you do, it has a corollary. If the conditions above do not pertain, then consumer behavior will be substantially elastic. This is a variant of Jim’s inoculation theory: if consumers are broke, depressed and resigned to high oil prices, then they will change their behavior as quickly as they can. Indeed, I have argued that the state of mental depression is literally critical in facilitating behavior change. In this case, depression serves a functional purpose.
    And then this takes us back to the problem of recessions and oil shocks. If consumer behavior is elastic, then price spikes become much more difficult to generate. We see malaise rather than boom-bust. The relevant literature (such as it is) is primarily directly at oil price shock-induced recessions rather than extended periods of oil consumption declines and the related drag on GDP. So we need to consider separately, I think, the impact of oil prices under price inelasticity (ordinary oil price spikes) and under conditions of material elasticity–as we have now. I believe these are not the same phenomena: the one is a short-run issue, the other a long-run response. In the inelastic demand case, we would expect great anxiety about spare capacity when it becomes thin, and reassuring declarations by Saudi Oil Minister al-Naimi about how well supplied oil markets are, even if we can’t afford that well-supplied oil. Well, guess what. Spare capacity is pretty thin now, too, with the EIA showing only 2 mbpd spare capacity (excluding shut-in Iran), and all of that in Saudi Arabia. Read anything about spare capacity lately? Seen al-Naimi make any re-assuring speeches? Not really. Why not? Because oil prices have run up fully to the carrying capacities respectively of the US and China (OECD, non-OECD) and the OECD is willing to cede consumption at the slightest provocation. Even Chinese demand has hardly budged since the beginning of the year. Prices, not capacity, are disciplining the market because the consumer–particularly the OECD consumer–is willing to cede oil consumption without a fight. In doing so, we lack the Big Bang, visible oil price shock to signal that the economy is oil-constrained. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so, just that it isn’t as obvious as you might expect.
    Now, the question arises as to whether oil consumption matters in such a case.
    A brief digression here. I am assuming that you know why oil consumption is decreasing in the OECD. That’s because the oil supply can’t keep up with demand and existing oil consumption from the OECD is being re-allocated to the non-OECD.
    Therefore, we know the price must be above the carrying capacity of the OECD and below the carrying capacity of the non-OECD, which in fact it is. But I’ll concede I’m asserting this here rather than demonstrating it’s so–I’m happy to walk you through the whole analysis on another comment. But for now, let’s assume that it’s true.
    If so, then the question arises–as I have noted above–as to whether oil consumption matters at all. Now, your inclination is to say that it does not. To which I would counter that I doubt you could take away every drop of oil from the economy overnight without a sharp and severe recession, with which I think you would agree. What about half the oil supply? Or a quarter? In any event, we would quickly establish the principle that oil consumption does in fact matter and that we’re just debating the threshold levels. And if you read my article “Peak Oil Economics” and noticed how correctly it forecast subsequent events, you might also accept the notion that US oil consumption will decline at around 1.5% per annum (with the most recent data showing 1.6% per annum). Now, can we reduce oil consumption at this pace without an impact on the economy? This is the interesting question. I suspect we cannot, and that declining oil consumption is in fact a constraint on economic growth. Thus, we cannot count on 3% GDP growth to save our proverbial bacon. But maybe I’m wrong. No one, including me, has done enough work to say anything here authoritatively, in my opinion. If you want to assign some lifting work to a graduate student, this is a topic to explore (if tradition holds, you must have some Haverford grads there—give it to them).

  15. 2slugbaits

    Steven Kopits I suspect we cannot, and that declining oil consumption is in fact a constraint on economic growth. Thus, we cannot count on 3% GDP growth to save our proverbial bacon.
    That is true if you believe the macroeconomy is best described by a Cobb-Douglas production function that includes exhaustible energy sources as a production input with input shares totally to 1.0. If the input shares total 1.0, then the share going to the depleting resource will eventually dominate the other inputs. At the limit the isoquants go Leontief. But that is not the case if you relax the assumption of input shares totaling to 1.0. If input shares are allowed to exceed 1.0, then this implies more linear isoquants that would allow substitution away from increasingly scarce resource inputs. Translations: our long run strategy should be to expand the menu of substitute inputs.
    Menzie Bruce Hall: If you understood what log scales do, you wouldn’t have written what you wrote. Geez.
    I didn’t have the heart to mention this to Bruce, but I guess someone had to. The thing that first attracted me to this blog was the James D. Hamilton name. I’ll embarrass him a bit, but his textbook is the gold standard and I keep it within easy reach on my desk at work (but sorry, JDH, it’s still kind of pricey!). So I almost don’t know what to think when I read comments that seem to suggest taking logs would somehow accentuate trends in data. Maybe it’s time for you or JDH to have Time Series 101 post.

  16. CoRev

    I see 2slugs is just as arrogant as always. He assets: “CoRev Still peddling that stupid crap about urban heat islands and long term cooling and 30 year cycles, blah, blah, blah. All of those issues have been addressed and ultimately dismissed. ”
    Not only is it argument by assertion, but it is poorly framed. I agree most of your arguments re: climate science are full of light weight crap.
    As to your assertion that UHI is stupid? Or is it non-existent? Or perhaps the temp readings around urban centers is crap. Just wondering?
    Then there is your comment re: 30 year cycles. If you did any research about ocean oscillations, PDO, AMO and others you would find an amazing regularity in the ~60 year (nothing in nature is precisely regular) range.
    I would provide the links for you, but you really do need the research.

  17. Steven Kopits

    Slugs -
    Substitutes for oil are primarily natural gas and electric vehicles, both of which I have written about. Both require significant capital investment and have switching costs and network issues.
    In the short to medium term, therefore, you are left with efficiency and conservation.
    Efficiency comes in two forms: asset efficiency (smaller engine, same car) and social efficiency (re-organization of activities so as not to require a car). (No doubt these have better technical names.)
    The question, again, is how fast can society adapt? How fast can efficiency improve? That is the very question I pose to Menzie.
    I don’t think we have a good handle on the answer.
    If adaptation is relatively slow compared to the pace at which we must reduce oil consumption, then oil will be a binding constraint on economic activity. I think it is.
    And if it is, then GDP performance for the future–as it hase for the last several years–will tend to fall short of the mark. The explanation then for weak economic performance is not a financial crisis, but an oil crisis.
    If so, then the deficit will decline too slowly, and we are living on borrowed time. There is no Keynesian bridge, and the focus must fall to demand reduction. At least that seems plausible.
    Now, I would like to see an analysis of what happens if GDP growth stays at 2%. What are the implications for Fed revenues, expenditures and debt? Is it possible to escape the current situation without raising taxes by $120,000 on the Top 1%, $14,000 on the top 20%, and probably $5,000-6,000 down to almost the median HH income? In fact, does that actually solve the problem?
    What happens if spending stays at 22.5% of GDP per Obama? If it comes down to 20%? What happens in interest rates go up by 2%? What happens if inflation goes up by 3%? What happens to average and marginal rates of taxation by Top 1%, Top 10%, and quintiles thereafter?
    In our business, these are bread-and-butter analyses (albeit for oil and gas markets and financial statements). If you gave me eight hours, I could run the numbers myself, but, you know, there are macroeconomists in the house.

  18. 2slugbaits

    CoRev I said “all of those issues have been addressed and subsequently dismissed.” By that I did not mean that there is no such thing as urban heat islands or regular cycles. But the key point is that even after accounting for those factors there is still strong evidence of global warming. Your objections have already been accounted for and dismissed.

  19. CoRev

    2slugs & Menzie fall back on the traditional straw man: ” But the key point is that even after accounting for those factors there is still strong evidence of global warming. Your objections have already been accounted for and dismissed.” Who here said there was no warming? How do mt points get categorized as objections? Objections to what?
    If you knew anything about th3e subject it would not result in such inane commentary. The core of the science is to determine what are the many effects on the climate components (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, land surface, and biosphere), and to what extent.
    As for Global Warming nothing has been dismissed. We’re lucky to have some agreement that they even exist.

  20. CoRev

    2slugs & Menzie fall back on the traditional straw man: ” But the key point is that even after accounting for those factors there is still strong evidence of global warming. Your objections have already been accounted for and dismissed.” Who here said there was no warming? How do mt points get categorized as objections? Objections to what?
    If you knew anything about th3e subject it would not result in such inane commentary. The core of the science is to determine what are the many effects on the climate components (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, land surface, and biosphere), and to what extent.
    As for Global Warming nothing has been dismissed. We’re lucky to have some agreement that they even exist.

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