Note: This post is the foreword to a policy paper on existential climate and security risks released today by Breakthrough. It is written by Retired Admiral Chris Barrie, who was Chief of the Australian Defence Force from 1998 to 2002.by Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired
I told the Inquiry that, after nuclear war, human- induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet. Today’s 7.5 billion human beings are already the most predatory species that ever existed, yet the global population has yet to peak and may reach 10 billion people, with dire implications absent a fundamental change in human behaviour.
This policy paper looks at the existential climate-related security risk through a scenario set thirty years into the future. David Spratt and Ian Dunlop have laid bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way.
In Australia recently we have seen and heard signals about the growing realisation of the seriousness of our plight. For example, young women speak of their decisions to not have children, and climate scientists admitting to depression as they consider the “inevitable” nature of a doomsday future and turn towards thinking more about family and relocation to “safer” places, rather than working on more research.
Stronger signals still are coming from increasing civil disobedience, for example over the opening up of the Galilee Basin coal deposits and deepwater oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight, with the suicidal increase in carbon emissions they imply. And the outrage of schoolchildren over their parent’s irresponsibility in refusing to act on climate change.
As my colleague Professor Will Steffen has said of the climate challenge:
“It’s not a technological or a scientific problem, it’s a question of humanities’ socio-political values… We need a social tipping point that flips our thinking before we reach a tipping point in the climate system.”A doomsday future is not inevitable! But without immediate drastic action our prospects are poor. We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.
In particular, our intelligence and security services have a vital role to play, and a fiduciary responsibility, in accepting this existential climate threat, and the need for a fundamentally different approach to its risk management, as central to their considerations and their advice to government.
The implications far outweigh conventional geopolitical threats.
I commend this policy paper to you.
Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired, is Honorary Professor, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, Canberra. He is a member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change and was Chief of the Australian Defence Force from 1998 to 2002.