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Climate change: ‘A near-to-mid-term existential threat to human civilisation’


Wednesday, 5th June 2019 at 9:01 am
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We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind, writes Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired.


Wednesday, 5th June 2019
at 9:01 am
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Climate change: ‘A near-to-mid-term existential threat to human civilisation’
Wednesday, 5th June 2019 at 9:01 am

We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind, writes Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired.

This article is the foreword to a policy paper on existential climate and security risks, published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration.

In 2017-18, the Australian Senate inquired into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security.

The inquiry found that climate change is “a current and existential national security risk”, one that “threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”.

I told the inquiry that, after nuclear war, human-induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet.

Today’s 7.5 billion human beings are already the most predatory species that ever existed, yet the global population has yet to peak and may reach 10 billion people, with dire implications absent a fundamental change in human behaviour.

This policy paper looks at the existential climate-related security risk through a scenario set 30 years into the future.

David Spratt and Ian Dunlop have laid bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way.

In Australia recently we have seen and heard signals about the growing realisation of the seriousness of our plight. For example, young women speak of their decisions to not have children, and climate scientists admitting to depression as they consider the “inevitable” nature of a doomsday future and turn towards thinking more about family and relocation to “safer” places, rather than working on more research.

Stronger signals still are coming from increasing civil disobedience, for example over the opening up of the Galilee Basin coal deposits and deepwater oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight, with the suicidal increase in carbon emissions they imply. And the outrage of schoolchildren over their parent’s irresponsibility in refusing to act on climate change.

As my colleague Professor Will Steffen has said of the climate challenge: “It’s not a technological or a scientific problem, it’s a question of humanities’ socio-political values… We need a social tipping point that flips our thinking before we reach a tipping point in the climate system.”

A doomsday future is not inevitable! But without immediate drastic action our prospects are poor.

We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind. In particular, our intelligence and security services have a vital role to play, and a fiduciary responsibility, in accepting this existential climate threat, and the need for a fundamentally different approach to its risk management, as central to their considerations and their advice to government.

The implications far outweigh conventional geopolitical threats.

About the author: Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired, is honorary professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, Canberra. He is a member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change and was chief of the Australian Defence Force from 1998 to 2002.

Read “Existential climate-related security risk: A scenario approach” by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop here.




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One Comment

  • Avatar kez says:

    Thanks for putting the climate security agenda into the public discourse in Australia. In 2007 the UK put this on the agenda of the UNSC. It is about time we caught up. The security threats to our region are significant. The human security threats within Australia include the natural disasters that are already challenging to say the least, and our long term food and water security. We need both mitigation and adaptation to address these threats

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