I, and many others in the industry, believe that the experts and specialists entrusted to protect and safeguard against threats to humanity are not front and center in the discussions, scenario modeling, strategies identification, or solutions processes to address observed and predicted disasters – arising from both natural and man-made threats.

This absence is created by a number of knowledge gaps and misconceptions about the security and defense sectors, and their importance and role in addressing threats posed by a changing climate. By failing to correct these gaps and misconceptions – which exist both within and outside the industry – we significantly increase the risk that our collective systems will fail to appropriately address the threats as the changing climate presents.

I have identified five key gaps that need to be addressed:

Leaders, policymakers, influencers and academics need to:

1. better understand and appreciate the purpose of the security and defense sectors, and their role in addressing climate change;

2. better recognize the subject matter expertise available within the security and defense sectors;

3. better understand how the industry has contributed, and is contributing, to technology and science within our world (including progressive climate leadership);

4. harness the appropriate expertise in the sectors available to address climate threats; and

5. ensure the right experts are at the table (when discussing and developing strategies or policies, for example).

Let’s take a look at these gaps in more detail, including proposals for dealing with them:

GAP #1. Not understanding the history and purpose of security and defense sectors, and their role in the world

We must first understand the history and role of the security and defense sectors in the world, when considering their importance for dealing with climate change threats. This role is to identify and detect threats; to prevent threats and to protect people, places, and interests against them; to respond where threats manifest, aiding in the recovery from harm processes; and to modify safeguards as necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment.

Security and defense dates back to the earliest days of civilization. Hunters defended their tribes and villages against wild animal attacks and raids from outsiders. The first walls and shelters were built to protect inhabitants from harm from man-made or naturally-occurring threats.

Early human survival was based on a primal need to detect, understand, prevent, and protect against threats of harm. This resulted in more resilient, stable, safe, and prosperous communities better prepared and able to recover after an event had taken place.

Many of those early security and defense concepts have stood the tests of time through innovation, purpose, and adaptability to change, and remain relevant to our collective interests today. Modern-day security and defense sector activities allow for the greater population to remain unaffected (and generally unaware), while sector specialists work at the strategic, technical and operational levels to ensure that our collective safety and security needs are met.

Proposed Solution: Observed and predicted threats associated to climate changes affect, and will continue to affect, people, places, and interests. Leaders, interest groups, and politicians need to understand and appreciate the importance of the security and defense industry in protecting our world, and to utilize these sectors in the role they are best suited for when considering climate change responses. 

GAP #2. Not recognizing the appropriate subject matter expertise within the security and defense sectors

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Climate change threats are not special. They are threats like any other, and should be addressed in the same manner that we address all other threats from harm. Experts and specialists in security and defense are particularly well-positioned to tackle the threats to people, places, and interests posed by climate change.

Here are a just a few of the complex fields of practice that form the modern security and defense industry of today: risk analysis, critical infrastructure protection, disaster prevention and recovery, force and asset protection, engineering, strategy and planning, energy systems and infrastructure, geopolitical and conflict analysis, stability operations, water and food security, medical services, infectious disease prevention, fire and rescue, homeland security, border protection, communications, community policing, cyber defense and security, intelligence, and defense research and development.

A common misconception, by those on the outside of the security and defense sectors, is that the industry is mostly limited to professions within a state’s military structure. Another misconception is that anyone from a state’s military structure is an expert in all things security and defense-related. Other negative perceptions prolific among climate policymakers and academics include ‘the generals should be kept as far from these tables as possible’ and ‘soldiers should be in the field, not determining strategy.’

These misconceptions are reducing our collective ability to effectively identify and address predicted climate change threats, and negatively affect our ability to implement appropriate safeguards and measures to address climate threats observed today.

Proposed Solution: Climate leaders, policymakers, and academics must recognize and acknowledge the subject matter expertise that exists across the security and defense sectors, in order to help create and implement effective solutions to address observed and predicted climate-related threats.

GAP #3. Not knowing how the sectors have contributed, and are contributing, to technology and science within our world (including progressive climate leadership)

With much of the world’s knowledge available at our fingertips, it is often surprising how little the average person knows about the contributions the security and defense sectors have made to the world of today. The scale and impact of these technological and scientific contributions touch on virtually every aspect of our daily lives.

It is difficult to consider a world without the security and defense sector’s investments throughout history. We wouldn’t have inventions or innovations such as the internal combustion engine, nuclear power, radars, submarines, satellites, global navigation systems, internet, the Onion, or even duct tape! We also wouldn’t have created or advanced understanding within fields such as computing and computer sciences, geoscience, radio astronomy, nuclear physics, materials science, oceanography, seismology, and other critical explorations of scientific knowledge.

Tech leadership and development, alongside innovation, have been a cornerstone of security and defense activities in the last century. The U.S. is a global defense industry leader in ‘green defense development’ in everything from water systems, bullets/shells/casings, and logistics networks to the ways they power their systems, vehicles, facilities, and operations. The U.S. military invested $1.6 billion of its 2019 budget specifically toward innovative energy tech R&D. This was in addition to funding designated for energy transition and green efficiency programs underway for domestic and foreign operations and facilities.

A great example of dual-use technologies, which benefit both climate industries and security and defense, is the RADARSAT constellation mission (RCM) – earth observation is an important defense technology, but also very important for monitoring environmental changes and impact events (such as the brushfires in Australia, or arctic ice melt).

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Proposed Solution: Climate leaders and policymakers must acknowledge the importance of the technology and scientific advancements made possible by the security and defense sectors, and to involve these sectors more closely when considering policies and strategies to deal with climate change. Without this industry’s investments and advancements, many innovative green technologies of today simply wouldn’t exist.

GAP #4. Not harnessing the expertise present to address climate threats

We have already considered the history and purpose of the security and defense sectors, and the contributions they have made to today’s world. Now let’s consider what they can bring to the table when it comes to climate changes and threats.

Mission success for the security and defense sectors requires concepts and activities to ‘stay ahead’ of the complex threats that humans face at present and in the future. Success requires that comprehensive assessment models be employed for each unique scenario under assessment.

The process starts by detailing the broad spectrum of threats that apply specifically to the unique conditions under assessment. Those threats are then broken down by probability, from the highest to the lowest probable. Susceptibility and vulnerability are clearly identified for all probable threats, and an initial risk score is determined. After that, the necessary safeguards and mitigation measures (within a defined set of risk tolerances) are developed and implemented. Industry experts will then employ the use of complex scenarios to test the security posture, in order to ensure the most effective solutions. The results of these steps provide a clear understanding of what the situation is, what the specific threats and risks are, and how the threats have been safeguarded against. Taken together, that knowledge allows for a strong level of confidence that residual risk is within limits and that one’s security posture is appropriate to meet the threats present.

Proposed Solution: The expertise responsible for creating solutions to threat-based challenges is not presently being used to crunch the scenarios and create solutions for climate-based threats. Climate leaders and policymakers need to ensure that this expertise is introduced to, and embedded in, future scenario modeling and solutions development.

GAP #5. Not having the right experts at the table

Climate change threats, and the suggested measures necessary to address climate change, are ever present in today’s discussions. We are hearing, more and more, security and defense industry terms coming up in those discussions. This appears to be a good thing on the surface, but, in many cases, the experts at the table are not the right experts for the task.

We have all been there, sitting at a table, surrounded by non-experts from your field. You’re stuck listening to a new figurehead (recently transferred in, from a private-sector position as a dog breeder!), or a career manager (who has never been required to hold subject matter expertise, only management qualifications), or a political staff member (who thinks in partisan terms for every single point of discussion), or ‘someone in a uniform’ (from a trade that is not even remotely relevant to the work at hand), or an academic (who has rarely seen the outside of a school or academic institution). People sitting there and telling you that they are subject matter experts in your field, what your findings are supposed to be, and how you are supposed to communicate those findings. Meanwhile, you haven’t even started your work yet, and it is clear that they haven’t the foggiest idea of what you even do! Unfortunately, this is not a caricature – this really is an accurate representation of what security and defense industry experts are observing across discussions relating to climate change intersections with the security and defense sectors.

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Virtually every accepted climate change predictions model today includes extensive listings of threats posed by a changing climate. The widely referenced RCP 4.5 contains threat examples associated to rising sea levels, damage to critical infrastructure, human security implications, increased migration, food security, increased conflict, and other similar challenges. However, the nuanced understandings of what those mean to societies and individuals are incomplete or missing altogether. Most worryingly, those best suited to tackle these challenges – the appropriate experts from the security and defense sectors – are drowned out by special interest voices, or are simply not invited to the table to begin with.

Proposed Solution: Leaders and policymakers must ensure that the right/appropriate experts (from the security and defense, and other, sectors), those best suited to tackle the observed and predicted challenges, are invited to the table and allowed to participate meaningfully in climate change discussions.

IN CONCLUSION

It would be very easy for me to highlight how failure to properly address the five issues listed above presents a clear and present danger to developing and implementing effective strategies for dealing with threats posed by climate and environmental changes.

However, this is not what this article is for. I want to make an impassioned plea, as a security and defense veteran, to the powers-that-be to get ‘climate’ considerations for the security and defense sectors right as we start the new decade. If we truly want to ensure that we are prepared to deal with the threats posed by climate change for the world of today, and the rest of the 21st century, each nation must entrust and enable the appropriate subject matter experts from the security and defense industry to be front and center in the policy making, strategy planning, and solutions development for countries’ climate and disaster-related responses.

Why? Well, as the names suggest, our sectors exist to provide security to our nations’ people, places, and interests, and to defend them against threats. Our sectors’ investments and innovations have made significant contributions towards making the world today a better place. Appropriate experts from our sectors are ideally suited to help protect our planet against observed and predicted climate change threats. Leaders and others involved in policy making need to ensure that these experts are not only invited to the table, but that they are given the opportunity to make their voices heard above the cacophony of competing special interests.

The alternative will most likely be our collective failure to achieve the best outcomes possible for the world of today, and of tomorrow.

This is the first column in a multi-part series by Ian Bradbury. Each column will touch on a detailed exploration of a different security and defense topic related to natural and man-made threats to humanity.

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