CIA closes down intelligence center focused on climate change

Living on Earth

The annual U.N. climate talks are underway in Doha, Qatar. Delegations from around the world are negotiating over potential solutions to the global climate crisis.

But scientists say the world isn’t waiting for humans to act. One of the more startling scientific reports presented at Doha — based, so far, on preliminary data – suggests that emissions from the melting Arctic are heading for a tipping point that could lead to runaway warming. In the meantime, and without fanfare, the Obama Administration has recently axed the Center on Climate Change and National Security at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, watches climate issues closely. He says the intelligence communities and the military have paid greater attention to climate change issues in recent years, because of their potential far-reaching implications.

“Whether it is military bases that are seeing sea level rise or countries that are subject to worse droughts and famines,” he said, “I think many countries around the world had come to the view that climate change was going to have a big impact on security.”

When Leon Panetta left as defense secretary, Romm said, the center lost its biggest champion. Also, David Petraeus, the recently disgraced and departed CIA director, had little interest in climate change’s impact on national security, Romm said. Plus there were political concerns as well.

“There’s a lot of congressional Republicans, who, you know, deny climate science and therefore attack any action by the federal government to study climate change and its impacts,” he said.

Of course budgets are under incredible stress right now. So officials have been looking for places to reduce the budget. Romm said there have been some suggestions that the CIA may have chosen to discontinue the center in order to make nice with Republicans who control the budget process in the House.

“I hope that’s not the case, because, this is a matter of pretty basic science and it would be a shame if our intelligence organization, whose job is to sift through the facts and be completely separate from ideological spin, it would be a shame if they were getting pressured to not look at science and facts,” Romm said.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., praised the CIA’s move to end their climate change center, according to an article from Greenwire.

“Closing the Climate Change Center a the CIA is the right decision. It’s critically important for the CIA to focus its resources on terrorism and keeping Americans safe,” he said.

Romm, however, argues that among the billions of dollars spent on intelligence, there is surely a few dollars that can be earmarked for looking at the national security implications of climate change.

“After seeing what hurricane Sandy did to New York and New Jersey, and imagine how these super storms are going to be like when they hit poorer countries that don’t have the kinds of resources that we do — I don’t think that anyone can say that we should ignore the threat of climate change,” he said.

But Romm says until there is broad agreement among our political leaders that climate change is a problem, there won’t be much action on the part of the U.S. to look at long-term consequences.

“The goal of the intelligence apparatus is to help make Americans safer and more secure,” Romm said. “And, since global warming is clearly a growing threat to our security, both directly and through how it affects countries that we have an interest in, we need to focus the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s thinkers on climate change.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.