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The Army on Global Warming

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Noah Shachtman notes that the Army has some interesting ideas about global warming:

The Army is weighing in on the global warming debate, claiming that climate change is not man-made. Instead, Dr. Bruce West, with the Army Research Office, argues that “changes in the earth’s average surface temperature are directly linked to … the short-term statistical fluctuations in the Sun’s irradiance and the longer-term solar cycles.”

In an advisory to bloggers entitled “Global Warming: Fact of Fiction [sic],” an Army public affairs official promoted a conference call with West about “the causes of global warming, and how it may not be caused by the common indicates [sic] some scientists and the media are indicating.”

There are a couple interesting points for discussion. First, it’s not all that surprising that the Army has found someone who thinks man-made global warming is a hoax; the people who think such things are almost invariably found on the right, and the officer corps of the United States military remains solidly on the right. I’m curious, though, about why the Army cares about whether global warming is natural or caused by human factors. When I participated (briefly) in the development of the Navy’s new maritime strategy a couple of years ago, climate change was simply treated as an assumption. Rather than attempt to determine cause, the Navy treated global warming as a problem that would have to be dealt with. This neatly avoided the scientific-political problem of assessing causation, which allowed everyone to think about pragmatic response.

Why would the Army treat the question differently than the Navy? For the Navy, the threat of global warming presents a very clear challenge; rising sea levels threaten to change the maritime landscape, and major disaster in the littoral (such as Katrina or the 2004 tsunami) require a naval response, regardless of how they come about. For the Army, global warming may present a less clear pragmatic challenge, allowing political thinking to prevail over the need for planning. This is my guess, but I really don’t know for sure.

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