There have been a steady drum beat of reports about the West Antarctic ice sheet, like this, and this. The news is pretty clear – four feet of sea level rise from this event alone, but playing out over the next 200 to 900 years, and another ten feet of sea level rise after that from other ice being exposed to the sea. Greenland will let go in about the same timeframe, adding another twenty feet. Here is a nice map that permits you to examine what 13m of sea level rise does to your favorite coastal city.
This article in The Hill glosses over the closure of the CIA’s Center on Climate Change and National Security. The recto-cranial inversion wing of the Republican party forced its closure as a matter of their unshakable faith that climate change is just another big conspiracy they’ve discovered. I used to worry about this, but I have decided that after Katrina, Sandy, Cyclone Gonu, Typhoon Haiyan, and a hundred other coldest/hottest/driest/wettest ever events I can simply wait for Mother Nature to hammer home the message in an undeniable fashion.
What does this mean for U.S. foreign policy?
We are loathe to admit it, but the United States is an imperial power, and after nearly 250 years with only a single major discontinuity, we are an elderly, tottering hegemony on its final legs. All empires die, even the isolated Egyptians seldom saw dynasties last more than two centuries without some sort of upheaval. Unfortunately another common characteristic of dying empires is that their elites, insulated from reality by luxury and layers of sycophants, will make exactly the wrong choices, because they can not envision a world where they don’t matter.
The United States will wake up from this eventually, but not as an empire, instead I expect us to have an experience like the Soviet Union did in the 1990s. There is a place in the Ukraine where hundreds of tanks, including the newer T-72 and T-80, are slowly rusting away. The Russian Navy deals with everything from sailors dying due to complications from malnutrition to narrowly averted meltdowns when dock side power is cut to idle submarines due to nonpayment of bills.
I am not going to rehash The Marine Corps Liability, it will suffice to say that we’re building systems today meant to solve problems we haven’t faced in two generations, and it isn’t just the Corps that is doing this, they just happened to be the example I picked that day. I expect we’ll hit some sort of financial pitfall and we’ll flip from building things we don’t need to maintaining systems we can’t afford to deploy. The Russians got bit hard by this one, particularly in submarines. The U.S. hasn’t lost a boat since 1968, but accidents for the poorly maintained Russian subs and their un-experienced crews have been all too regular.
Our soft power will still be considerable even if we do take a major financial tumble, but we’re starving diplomacy for the sake of military expenditures. The State Department’s budget is about the same as black ops, but we’ve doubled covert expenditures while slashing State’s money by a fifth. Benghazi happened in 2012 in large part thanks to an 18% budget cut the year before, which lead to RSOs (regional security officers) who didn’t speak Arabic rotating in and out of that post every thirty days. Some rotation of new staff for the sake of experience is a good move, in the case of Benghazi it was all of them, and the discontinuity was part of the deadly mix. Repairing the diplomatic damage from our adventure in Iraq will take a generation, that clock only starts ticking once we can admit we made a terrible error, and this will not come for free.
We didn’t intervene in Syria because the Russians vetoed that. We tried something terribly cheeky in the Ukraine and it backfired on us badly. I don’t watch the Pacific Rim more closely than reading Night Watch and ten months ago I assumed we were upgrading B-52s in preparation for a Cold War style standoff. I have discarded that assumption.
We’ve barely begun to process the sting of Russia saying ‘no’ and making it stick. What will we do when our first and second largest sovereign debt holders get into direct conflict over offshore oil and gas? Don’t answer unless you can factor in the absolute certainty of the initial premise of this post – anthropogenic global warming isn’t a hoax, and it’s not even a theory any more, it’s a grim reality. Mother Nature consistently offers three choices: move, adapt, or die.
A final thought. The white ones are the places the British Empire never invaded. Where are the British now?