The National Intelligence Council recently completed its classified assessment of climate change-related security issues through 2030, and, yesterday, briefed the House Intelligence Committee on its findings, describing how future environmental disasters will lead to water scarcity, food shortages, and forced migration in some of the most economically depressed regions of the world.
The idea that such unrest could be a threat multiplier in the Global South is nothing new. But what seems notable is how the NIC report links such far-flung disturbances to America’s own security. Via the Earth Institute, citing an a briefing document from InsideDefense:
Climate-related security impacts could be significant when they cause "a noticeable--even if temporary--degradation in one of the elements of national power (geopolitical, military, or social cohesion) because it indirectly influences the U.S. homeland, indirectly influences the United States through a major military ally or a major economic partner, or because the global impact is so large, that [it] indirectly consumes U.S. resources...The additional stress on resources and infrastructure will exacerbate internal state pressures, and generate interstate friction through competition for resources or disagreement over responses and responsibility for migration.
Note the repetition: the initial consequences may be "indirect." But even if that's the case, the spillover of climate-related conflicts between states will be global, and they stand to disproportionately affect the United States. The Earth Institute, in its own analysis of the report's raw data, cites China, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt as among the nations most likely to experience "dangerous instability" as a result of climate change. Regardless of how energy-independent the United States may become, there will clearly be a limit to our ability to inoculate ourselves from such widespread volatility.
Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.