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The Unnatural Habitat of Science Writer John Rennie

Pakistan's Floods, Global Warming & Global Security

John Rennie

Next time someone seems skeptical of the idea that anthropogenic climate change represents not just an environmental threat, or a threat to economies, or even a human catastrophe, but an actual threat to global security and political security... point to this on Pakistan's horrific floods by Robert Reich at

Flooding there has already stranded 20 million people, more than 10 percent of the population. A fifth of the nation is underwater. More than 3.5 million children are in imminent danger of contracting cholera and acute diarrhea; millions more are in danger of starving if they don’t get help soon. More than 1,500 have already been killed by the floods.

This is a human disaster.

It’s also a frightening opening for the Taliban.


If you’re not moved by the scale of the disaster and its aftermath, consider that our future security is inextricably bound up with the future for Pakistan. Of 175 million Pakistanis, some 100 million are under age 25. In the years ahead they’ll either opt for gainful employment or, in its absence, may choose Islamic extremism.

We are already in a war for their hearts and minds, as well as those of young people throughout the Muslim world.

Right now, Islamic insurgents are using the chaos as an opportunity, attacking police posts in Pakistan’s northwest while police have been occupied in rescue and relief work. Meanwhile, lacking help and losing hope, many Pakistanis are becoming increasingly hostile toward President Asif Ali Zardari.

And, of course, Pakistan has the bomb.

Oh, yes, I know, scientists can't pin Pakistan's floods definitively to global warming. But global warming increases the odds of such disruptive events in Pakistan and elsewhere, and the dangers only multiply as the warming increases. If climate change only makes such disasters a little more probable, consider the repercussions. And consider how the unwillingness of the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world to curb their greenhouse emissions significantly will sit with people in the countries most likely to bear the brunt of the climate effects.

Update (added 9 a.m.): For a more domestic, constructive and cogent post on a similar theme, go read JR Minkel's "Addressing climate change is about preserving freedom." JR is of course ignoring America's most important freedoms: to drive massive gashogs and leave the garage lights on all night. But maybe he has some kind of crazy hippie point.