Observe Armageddon


London?s The Observer has a poorly argued and alarmist piece today on a Pentagon report that suggests: ?Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.?

I?m hardly qualified to debate the conclusions, but The Observer goes into panic and conspiracy mode, with very little in the piece to suggest that the Pentagon?s report is anything more than an effort at long-term planning. Here are two typical passages:

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ?Siberian? climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is ?plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately,? they conclude. As early as next year (my italics) widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.

Hold on a minute. Next year? So Armageddon is already upon us. And, God forbid, that there are floods next year, will we have to simply assume they are fulfillment of Pentagon prophecy?

To substantiate this astounding jump from prospective danger to imminent happening, The Observer cites one of the report?s authors to the effect ?that it [is] already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. ?We don?t know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years.??

Yes, but ?not knowing exactly where we are? is a pretty big waffle in any book. However, the deadline to annihilation may not be as close as the London paper predicts, as the following passage from the same piece makes clear, apparently giving us roughly until 2020 to find a cave, stock up on tuna fish, and buy some batteries. (Notice also how the story muddies the waters through what is possibly an irrelevant analogy, with its ?could soon be repeated? construct thrown in as an escape hatch.)

Already, according to Randall and Schwartz [the authors], the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 ?catastrophic? shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.

The Observer has oversold quite a few its pieces that turned out to be duds (a year ago it made a big fuss out of the fact that the U.S. and the U.K. were, gosh, spying against delegations at the U.N. to see how they would vote on an Iraq resolution?hold the front page), but this one is particularly egregious.

Ron Bailey, this is your introduction.