Almost Flunking on Global Warming

Focusing on issues like terrorism and austerity, the world has slid back toward neglecting the slow-grinding existential threat of global warming. A report card by an Establishment think tank offers poor grades on some of the most important subjects, reports ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a “Global Governance Report Card” (prepared chiefly by Stewart Patrick) that assesses how the international community has been doing over the past five years in addressing six major global challenges: climate change, finance, nuclear proliferation, armed conflict, public health and terrorism.

Any evaluation this ambitious offers selections and judgments that can and will be shot at, but the report card (backed up by more detailed discussions in each subject area, including which states and organizations have been doing well or poorly) offers useful food for thought.

Edge of the ice at Nunavit. (Photo credit: Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, USA)

One of the main impressions is that the grades the global community has earned are unimpressive. They range from a B on finance and terrorism to a D on climate change, with the average somewhere around a C+. The world community is coasting through its curriculum. The dean’s list does not appear to be in sight.

Another immediate impression is the relative performance in the different subject areas, especially that D for climate change. The graders probably have this about right. The pattern of performance reflects more attention to short-term attention-grabbers and less to long-term disasters in the making. Severe recessions and terrorist attacks command immediate attention; slow destruction of the planet does not.

For each of the six areas the United States gets its own separate grade for its part in the global performance. The U.S. grades vary in tandem with the world grades but are always a notch or two higher—ranging from a B+ for finance and terrorism to a C- for climate change. Does this reflect a U.S.-centric bias? Perhaps.

It also raises questions about the size of roles and responsibilities for different actors. The United States gets credit for doing more than most others about most of these problems, but some would argue (while others would not) that the United States, given its size and power, should be expected to do more.

One can also raise issues of consistency in the evaluations. On global finance Germany is dinged as a “laggard” for initially pushing for austerity measures that “undermined market confidence and intensified economic challenges” elsewhere in Europe. But the discussion of the United States gives no hint of a parallel macroeconomic issue in America, including an issue of persistent unemployment.

The only criticism made of the United States in this section (other than points about its relations with the IMF and World Bank) is about Congressional inaction on the deficit that “subjected the U.S. Treasury bond market to unnecessary risk” — even though that market has shown no sign of anxiety and interest rates remain historically low.

Obviously different people can bring different values to such questions and to this exercise as a whole. Even when values are not involved, to say whether the world community has left a given situation in good or in poor shape often does not point to any one policy lesson.

In the armed conflict category, for example, the report card laments how messy Iraq has been since the U.S. withdrawal and how messy Afghanistan looks to be as the United States is drawing down there. Should the main lesson be that the United States should not have attempted any nation-building in those countries (and in Iraq, never have gone in at all), or that it has not done enough in the way of nation-building? One can find people on both sides of such questions.

As broad as the six subject areas are, in a sense they are not broad enough. Under terrorism, for example, high marks are given for attention to terrorist finance and terrorism with unconventional weapons — and yes, there certainly has been plenty of attention to those topics — but the world community is rated as doing a “poor” job of “fighting terrorism while protecting human rights.”

Some might go farther and argue that protection of human rights deserves to be a major category in its own right. The main lesson here is that interactions and trade-offs abound.

When the world community has messed something up it often has been a matter of focusing too narrowly on some single objective — such as stopping terrorism, overthrowing a dictator, or reducing a deficit — with insufficient attention to all the other interests and costs involved.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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4 comments on “Almost Flunking on Global Warming

  1. I think that’s a gentlemen’s D on climate. I see nothing of any real substance to suggest we are going to solve the climate crisis. We are blowing past 2 degrees C and almost certainly past 4 degrees C. Current trends suggest 6-9 degrees C are more likely than not. Which is game over. Not sure a D grade is really cutting it. We’ve flunked every major test. Here in the U.S., you’ve got ALEC pushing bills to block renewable portfolio standards in the states and to promote the teaching of climate denial/ignorance in our schools — yes, Tennessee was an early adopter of that one.

  2. bgrnathan on said:

    GLOBAL WARMING MAY NOT BE MAN MADE

    Dr. Larry Vardiman (scientist and physicist) of the Institue for Creation Research says:

    “One possible scenario may be found in a recent series of articles by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Marsh, cosmic ray specialists from Denmark, who have shown an indirect connection between galactic cosmic ray (GCR) intensity and global temperature.7,8,9 They are studying the influence of the Sun on the flow of GCR to Earth. The Sun’s changing sunspot activity influences the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth permitting more GCR to strike the Earth during high periods of activity.

    When the Sun is active, the intensity of GCR striking the Earth is increased, causing more ionization in the atmosphere, creating more carbon-14, and possibly creating more cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). This increase in CCN, in turn, appears to create more low-level clouds which cool the Earth. When the Sun is quiet the GCR intensity striking the Earth is reduced, allowing the Earth to warm. Svensmark and Marsh have shown a striking statistical correlation between sunspot activity and global cooling and warming over the past 1000 years.

    The recent rise in global temperature may partially be due to current low solar activity supplemented by a recent increase in carbon dioxide concentration measured at Mauna Loa. The connection which still needs further study is the production of CCN and clouds by GCR.”

    There is a good deal of science showing that global warming is not mad made. Yes, we still should have pollution controls, as we already do, but not to the extreme because it will unnecessarily hurt business.

    Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

    Babu G. Ranganathan
    B.A. Bible/Biology

    Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      Babu, your credentials are certainly impressive. Wow! A B.A. in Bible/Biology! Undoubtedly there are skeptics, but they have only evidence and analytical methodology on their side. They may belittle your sense of certainty, but don’t let them shake your faith. Those of us who know better are confident that paradise awaits us, and we will be reunited with our fellow travelers from Noah’s Ark, the dinosaurs. The best part is that we will be able to re-enact all that incestuous fornication that Noah’s children rejoiced in, just like Adam and Eve’s children did, in their efforts to populate the world with true believers. Wont that be fun???!!! And the best part is, there’s no admission fee to ride the dinosaurs! In the meantime, a little chicken blood dribbled on a laurel leaf and buried at midnight on the full moon will ward off any unwanted climactic disturbances in your particular location, but please, don’t let the cat out of the bag. This is secret wisdom from the Ancient Sages of Pernacchia, and anyone who has not been properly initiated could drop dead instantly just from reading it. Good Luck!