Perhaps a more overlooked facet of international relations is the effect climate change has in altering the global security environment. Despite what Ken Ham or Rick Perry would have you believe, climate change is actively reshaping entire geographic regions. Thawing Arctic ice is an example of this trend, which creates new sea lanes for ships to sail through during summer month. These rather staggering changes are also becoming more accommodating to installations capable of accessing oil deep below the Arctic ice, changing regional geopolitical calculations. America has had to rethink its Arctic strategy from the occasional nuclear submarine to deploy a sizable security force capable of conducting a wide array of operations, from search and rescue to search and destroy.
However, climate change is somewhat of a double edged sword. While the West will no doubt jump at the chance to shorten the distance cargo ships have to sail, and Russia in particular must be quite overjoyed at the chance to further cement their position as a global energy mogul, there are also a host of challenges riding on the coattails of global climate change. On balance, these challenges will ultimately outweigh the benefits that some point to as a sort of indication that climate change is a net positive force.
Global increases in temperature have had a disastrous effect in Africa, for example. Desertification has rampantly thrashed sub-Saharan and Saharan Africa, resulting in frequent droughts, diminished bodies of water, and decreased crop outputs. Subsequently, increased poverty and radicalization have both occurred, creating terrorist breeding grounds out of affected nations. Individuals who find themselves in dire situations often turn to drastic measures, figuring they have nothing else to lose.
Given that Americans live in a nation where the government pays farmers not to sell food, it is unsurprising that we are insulated from sudden changes in the international food market. However, temperature variations of even half a degree can cause catastrophic effects on crop yield. In food sensitive environments, a slightly hotter year can devastate a nation's agricultural sector. Therefore, African and Middle Eastern nations are especially susceptible to these negative effects of climate change. Take the 2011 Arab Spring, which up-seated the political status quo throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. High cost of food was a major point of anger for anti-government protestors in the Arab world. This isn't a new event, either. In the 17th century, for example, lower temperatures caused widespread food shortages throughout Europe, which contributed to political tumult throughout the era.
In the Pacific, island nations are increasingly becoming more and more vulnerable to rising sea levels. Kiribati is expected to become completely submerged underwater before 2040, making the nation's number one goal to find somewhere else to live when their habitat disappears. Micronesia's islands are becoming saturated with salty water, making agriculture increasingly difficult. Increased rates of hurricanes will continue to lay waste to both human and economic security through out the region. Areas of China contend with increased rates of malaria and schistosomiasis due to climate change, an issue that will become more ubiquitous world-wide as time goes on.
Both natural disaster and conflict arising from climate change result in migration, which can further deteriorate conditions within a state or its regional neighbors. Population hegiras often put stress on a nation's economy. If desertification produces 500,000 internally displaced refugees, what is a nation to do with them? How does a government pay, feed, house, and find jobs for half a million people? Such conditions can serve to undermine an already failing economy. Further, if these refugees are fleeing from resource scare environments, it's likely that the place they're headed to is no land of milk and honey. Areas may already struggle to provide enough resources to its own residents, let alone tend to a humanitarian crisis. Moreover, peace in many countries is maintained by a very, very fragile sectarian or ethnic balance between two or more groups. Thus, sudden disruptions in demographics could result in increased political tensions, or even conflict. If ethnic group A already hates ethnic group B, how would they react to having to provide for their care?
These are some of the issues I wish to explore in depth, as I think that they'll become increasingly more salient as time goes on. Even if NASA's draconian predictions prove to be incorrect (which is possible), it's obvious that climate change is altering the security environment. Thus, nations must be prepared to deal with these changes in the most effective way possible.