The CIA's Climate Change Shop

By Keith Kloor | September 29, 2009 10:16 am

It’s called the Center on Climate Change and National Security. This strikes me as huge news, not so much because it further institutionalizes and legitimizes climate change as a national security issue, but because the center’s mission will necessarily overlap with a broader suite of environmental issues, as indicated by the CIA’s own press release:

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.

Obviously climate change is the rubric and impetus for opening this CIA shop. But even if anthropogenic climate change didn’t exist, there would still be a need for such a center, due to the national security implications of drought, over-exploitation of natural resources, population pressures, etc.

Yes, that’s a complicated equation in of itself. And adding climate change (and its rubbery timescales and environmental uncertainties) is tricky and open to manipulation, as environmental security advocate Geoff Dabelko cautioned here last month:

it is important to remember that in the mid-1990s, advocates oversold our understanding of enviromental links to security,  creating a backlash that ultimately undermined policymakers’ support for meeting the very real connections between environment and conflict head-on. Today, “˜climate security’ is in danger of becoming merely a political argument that understates the complexity of climate’s security challenges.

The CIA has a real chance to analyze and communicate that complexity in ways that could enhance climate change as a credible national security issue, but only if it can avoid the pitfalls of politicization.

H/T: Natural Security


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


See More

Collapse bottom bar