Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The CIA and Climate Change - Hedging One's Bet

Given the recent news coverage of the American intelligence network snooping on our private affairs, it may surprise you that one branch of the government intelligence service, the CIA, actually has an interest in global climate change.  Surprise!  In fact, they are so interested in the subject, that they are investing American's tax dollars to evaluate the impact of various geoengineering techniques on climate change.

According to the National Academies website, a committee of academics with widely varying backgrounds will evaluate a limited number of geoengineering techniques that could be used to change the rate of global climate change including solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal.  The committee will then comment on the possible environmental and economic concerns related to each technique but, most importantly (here it comes), will examine the impact of these techniques on national security.  The study is expected to take 21 months to complete with a report expected in the fall of 2014 and, not terribly surprisingly, the meetings held by the committee are closed to the public.

Quoting from the press release, here is what the committee will complete over its 21 month lifespan:

"1. Evaluate what is currently known about the science of several (3-4) selected example techniques, including potential risks and consequences (both intended and unintended), such as impacts, or lack thereof, on ocean acidification,

2. Describe what is known about the viability for implementation of the proposed techniques including technological and cost considerations, 

3. Briefly explain other geoengineering technologies that have been proposed (beyond the selected examples), and

4. Identify future research needed to provide a credible scientific underpinning for future discussions." 

The study will also look at historical methods of changing the weather (i.e. cloud seeding) and examine these methods for societal reactions and ethical considerations.  The United States government, through the military, already has experience with attempted weather modification.  In case you weren't aware, during the Vietnam war, the United States military used a cloud seeding program in an attempt to create heavy rainfall in Laos with the ultimate goal of washing away the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy enemy crops (Project Popeye).  This project was proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in August 1966 and was estimated to cost $3.6 million annually.
Back to the topic at hand.  The study has support from the "U.S. intelligence community", NASA, NOAA and the National Academy of Sciences.  According to some sources, the total cost of this project is $630,000.

The CIA does have direct involvement in climate change issues.  Back in September 2009, the CIA announced the launching of The Center on Climate Change and National Security.  Here is the Center's charter:

"Its charter is not the science of climate change, but the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources. The Center will provide support to American policymakers as they negotiate, implement, and verify international agreements on environmental issues. "

In co-operation with the Intelligence Community, the Center reviewed and declassified images and other data that could be used by the scientific community to research climate change.  As well, the Center looked at the impact that climate change has on political, economic and social stability issues both domestically and internationally.  By November 2012, the Center was closed due to dwindling support both internally and from Congress, particularly in light of cuts to the total U.S. Intelligence budget.

In light of the rather hefty number of climate change deniers in government, it is interesting to see that America's intelligence community is hedging its bets.  At least someone might be prepared.

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