Pentagon Crystal Ball
This video was recorded and edited just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We have made changes to acknowledge the new context. But we want to emphasize that in discussing a foolish report from 20 years ago predicting climate disasters that had no chance of happening, further hyped by the media and leading experts, we are by no means suggesting that governments ignore worst-case scenarios. On the contrary, the coronavirus pandemic underlines that when public authorities and commentators fail to distinguish realistic threats from phantoms, we waste billions of dollars on pointless posturing and futile defences against minor or even non-existent dangers and leave ourselves short of the financial, intellectual, institutional and even emotional resources needed to deal with real emergencies when they do appear.
Governments around the world spent the past year or so declaring a Climate Emergency. But the world outside looked pretty much the same as it always had, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and showed us what a real crisis looks like. So where’s the climate emergency?
Well, it’s coming, they say. The experts have computer models that tell us we only have 10 years until the climate crisis hits so we have to act now.
But they’ve been saying things like this for decades. If their models were accurate, we should have seen the predictions come true by now.
For the Climate Discussion Nexus I’m John Robson, and this is a Crystal Ball Check on the Pentagon Climate Report.
In 2003, the Department of Defence commissioned a report on the risks climate change posed for the US of A. Entitled “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security” it was submitted to the Pentagon in October 2003, at a time when then-President George W. Bush was the focus of international criticism for his apparent indifference to the global warming issue in general, and the Kyoto Protocol in particular.
The contents of the report were kept quiet until early 2004. But then two British publications, the Guardian newspaper and its Sunday sister The Observer, blew the lid off its supposedly explosive findings.
“Pentagon tells Bush: Climate change will destroy us” the headline screamed. The article hinted darkly at a conspiracy to suppress the report and its deadly findings: “Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.”
A lot of top climate scientists hailed the report as proof that a crisis was coming and the White House needed to act.
The article quoted German climatologist John Schellnhuber that the Pentagon report should be a “tipping point” in persuading Bush to accept the party line on climate change. That’s the same John Schellnhuber would later go on to become head of Germany’s top climate research institute and be the top climate advisor to the supposedly conservative Christian Democratic Union Chancellor Angela Merkel.
British climate expert Robert Watson declared “It’s going to be hard to blow off this sort of document.… The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group… If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act.”
Watson was, at the time, the chief scientist for the World Bank and the former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
And Watson’s warnings were echoed by another former chair of the IPCC, Sir John Houghton, who added “If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.”
The Guardian quoted a former senior Environmental Protection Agency official who said the report was “yet another example of why this government should stop burying its head in the sand on this issue.” And a high-ranking Congressional policy advisor added “This adds a powerful new voice to the global-warming debate in Congress.”
Wow. With all these top scientists and influential people behind it, it must have been a pretty impressive report. But remember, it was written back in 2003. And most of its predictions were for things that would happen by 2020, unless the US and others took drastic actions they have obviously not taken. So let’s check how good the authors’ crystal ball turned out to be.
The report predicted that around 2007, coastal levees in the Netherlands could be so damaged by storms that they would give way, making Dutch cities like the Hague unlivable.
As you know, and the Dutch certainly know it, it didn’t happen. The Hague still exists, and people still live there. In fact in 2019 there was a big Climate Change and Security Conference there, which took place on dry land, I believe.
Around the same time that the Netherlands would be going under, according to this 2003 Pentagon report, there would also be a failure of delta levees in the Sacramento region of California that would cause an inland sea to form in the Central Valley.
We checked some local webcams and there is no sign of an inland sea covering the California Central Valley. Which also probably would have made your local paper if it had happened.
Here’s another prediction from the report.
Starting in 2010, ocean circulation patterns would break down, wiping out the Gulf Stream and causing European temperatures to plunge about 3 degrees in 10 years. By 2020, according to the report, Europe’s climate would be like Siberia’s.
Wrong again. And the rest of the report is just as loopy.
It projected that Europe would experience a drought for the entire decade from 2010 to 2020, as would China and East Africa. But no such drought occurred.
It said that starting around 2016 the US and Europe would enter into open conflict over fishing rights.
Nope, no fish war.
At the same time, border skirmishes were supposed to start among European countries over dwindling food and water. Another mighty swing and a miss, in fact three and you’re out, because not only were there no skirmishes, there was no dwindling food, no dwindling water.
And it gets worse. The report said the European Union will nearly collapse by 2025 as 10% of the population fled for North Africa and Israel.
Of course, the opposite happened. The EU found itself under considerable stress from a huge wave of migrants coming in from North Africa and the Middle East.
Now the authors did caution that they weren’t 100% sure all these things would happen. They even said their scenario is “not the most likely” but is “plausible.” But then your average psychic tends to hedge their bets.
Not the zealots in the media, certainly not the Guardian Observer, which said:
“The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.”
The whole report was worthless rubbish. Its predictions weren’t just wrong, they were deranged. And yet it was approved by top experts at the Pentagon, endorsed by leading climate scientists, and then touted in the media as definitive evidence with major policy implications.
Nobody along the way had the courage to call it what it was: garbage. And has anybody been punished since for peddling trash as treasure? Not in the Pentagon, certainly not in the press.
In the spring of 2020, unfortunately, we found out what a real emergency looks like. And it doesn’t just show the fatuity of trendy posturing about a “climate emergency,” it shows the danger of creating a public policy environment in which people who know the climate emergency rhetoric is overblown are too scared to say so, and governments, journalists and many members of the public overlook real dangers, or fail to prepare for them, because they’re distracted by hysterical warnings about imaginary ones.
So, that common sense thing, it’s your job.