Climate Change, Space, and Implications for National Security

The Earth Observations Panel Session at the 2008 National Space Symposium

Panelists for the Earth Observations Session were Mr. Scott C. Rayder, Chief of Staff, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Ms. Nancy S. A. Colleton, President, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (moderator); Mr. Ray Clark, Senior Partner, The Clark Group; Ms. Michele Brunngraber, Deputy ADDNI for Architecture, Engineering, and Integration, Department of National Intelligence. Not pictured: Mr. David L. Ryan, Sector Vice President & General Manager of the Civil Systems Division, Northrop Grumman Space Technology.

One year ago at the National Space Symposium, the Earth Observations Panel, for the first time, focused clearly on climate change as having emerged as the most important use of remotely sensed data. At this year's meeting earlier in April, this significant point was taken to the much-needed next level: How climate, energy and national security are intertwined and must be addressed as such moving forward.

Nancy Colleton convened a well-qualified panel during the 2008 National Space Symposium on April 10, addressing this issue with four panelists representing all sectors. She began the session by highlighting the astounding results of a study done by CNA Corporation (a Pentagon-funded think tank), which states that climate change is clearly a threat to our national security. It is important to note that the authors of this study are a Military Advisory Board from all branches of the military, made up of 11 Retired Flag Officers including Vice Admiral Richard H. Truly, USN (Ret.), Former NASA Administrator, Shuttle Astronaut and the first Commander of the Naval Space Command, who was in the audience of this panel discussion.

The report resulting from this study was released in April 2007 and can be obtained here:

The report "explores ways that projected climate change is a threat multiplier in already fragile regions, exacerbating conditions that lead to failed states – the breeding ground for extremism and terrorism." These are the formal findings:

  1. Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America's national security

  2. Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world

  3. Projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world

  4. Climate change, national security, and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges

Michele Brunngraber, in her opening remarks, said that DNI Director Mike McConnell acknowledged the connection between climate change and national security in May 2007. The DNI office has a report due this summer on a study of four key areas: a. geophysical and atmospheric changes, b. biophysical system changes, c. weather pattern changes, and d. social and political systems.

Ray Clark is a consultant and served as a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army and Associate Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration. He recently formed the Conservationists for National Security to provide a forum to address the impacts of climate change on national security. He stated that monitoring and adaptation decisions based on high quality information are essential to making critical decisions, but monitoring is often the first thing to suffer budget cuts. He commented that environmental functions and energy functions should be operating as seamlessly as possible, but in the Army are separated with no strategic planning linking the two functions. Mr. Clark stated that an elemental and obvious early impact of climate change will be the Army installations located near low lying areas, such as in the Pacific, and that no previous base closure process has taken into account the extraordinary costs of adapting these installations to sea level rise.

Scott Rayder, Chief of Staff at NOAA, is very passionate about climate change. He sees coastal development and economic security as key issues, and notes that "space-based Earth observations are at the center of how we build scenarios to determine the consequences of sea-level rise as well as impacts on the economy." Earth observations will be a key component to building those scenarios for many parts of our economy. He added that, should Congress approve cap and trade legislation to address climate change, "it is imperative that we verify what other countries are releasing into the atmosphere; trust with verification will be a key to a successful cap and trade scenario, and a key tool in measuring progress."

He further noted that NOAA's National Climate Data Center in Ashville, N.C. collects a vast amount of baseline measurements, and NOAA is exploring the development of a new National Climate Service to be the national integrator for all the climate products and services the government produces.

David Ryan of Northrop Grumman was in charge of their company's involvement with NPOES, and pointed out the need for international architecture. Michele Brunngraber added that the baseline for this global architecture could be data already collected, including MEDEA (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) data, which is archived at the Stennis Space Center. During the early 1990's, scientists were cleared to review previously classified datasets working closely with the intelligence community. They recommended 500 fiducial (reference) points on the Earth for long-term monitoring, and for evaluating rate and type of change and risk.

Each person in this group of professionals is clearly passionate about this subject. Their final points were clear:

  1. No matter the country's response to climate change, observations systems will be needed to measure and monitor impacts and effectiveness of policy.
  2. We need a long-term baseline of Earth observation architecture for ongoing climate assessment globally.
  3. We need a government roadmap showing how we will "meet the speed of need," a phrase uttered at the symposium by Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Commander of Air Force Space Command and repeated by many others during the week.
  4. We need the government to integrate energy and the environment for decision making.
  5. Increased funding is needed for expanded and sustained Earth monitoring.

As reported by Time magazine on April 16, the tie between national security and climate change is what caused a change of heart for a Republican, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who uncharacteristically sponsored a bill (with Sen. Joe Lieberman) to mandate greenhouse gas reductions for the U.S. economy (legislation from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works). See Time magazine article, "Does Global Warming Compromise National Security?"

Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey (recently with Booz Allen Hamilton and now with Goodwin Procter LLP) and United Nations Foundation President Tim Wirth (and others) have been speaking about this publicly for several years. Ideally, this research-verified connection between national security and environmental issues will be the key to unlocking additional funding for ongoing Earth observations and for finding existing datasets to use as the baseline architecture for climate assessment.

Watch for more coverage of this subject in Imaging Notes, which covers "Earth Remote Sensing for Security, Energy and the Environment."

- Myrna James Yoo, Publisher/Managing Editor


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