Not surprisingly based on its description, global warming is a global problem where decisions made in a given region or even in a single country over the long-term can have profound negative consequence to others. Unfortunately while the major players recognize that global warming is a problem there appears to be little diplomatic urgency to create a globally recognized system to address the mitigation of CO2 as well as any future CO2 remediation or adaptation strategies to diminish the detrimental outcomes that are already occurring. This lack of progress creates a unique, but onerous decision-making environment for parties who have behaved or are now behaving responsibly with regards to CO2 emissions.
Consider the following example: in a neighborhood lives family A, family B and family C. All three families share the same water supply. Family A does not produce a lot of waste and/or acts appropriately when disposing of the waste they create during the course of their day. Family B does well enough with disposal, but still has moments where waste disposal is improperly performed. Family C does not properly dispose of their waste and is slowly contaminating the water supply. Family A has asked family C numerous times to either properly dispose of their waste or to create less waste citing the moral obligations of all three families to maintain the purity of their communal water supply. Despite this reasonable and appropriate prodding family C has refused to change their waste management behavior.
Unfortunately for family A they cannot contact the police because while family C is engaging in reckless behavior practically and morally their behavior is not recognized as illegal. In addition family A is unable to move to a different location due to a lack of available funds. Based on this scenario family A appears to have two responses: do nothing and eventually wait to die from a water-borne disease/dehydration or forcefully prevent family C from continuing to contaminate the communal water supply.
The above analogy describes the global community as it stands with regards to CO2 emissions. Family A represents groups like the European Union, Maldives, New Zealand, etc. Family B represents groups like Brazil, Australia, Canada, etc. Family C represents groups like the China, United States, India, Japan and Russia. With the aforementioned failure of international treaties and a disregard for morality both of others and the future, can it be morally justified for a group of significant military might like the European Union to declare war against a nation like China on the pretense that their actions will definitively result in the eventual destruction of the European Union?
Some would argue that the European Union declaring war on a nation like China would be counter-productive for both sides due to the monetary investments in the war, which could be better applied to carbon mitigation and the additional carbon emissions that would be released by the machines of war and the destruction they would cause. This reservation is understandable, but is flawed. While the money could be utilized for carbon mitigation the motivating factor for declaring and executing the war in the first place is that the money is not being used for carbon mitigation fast enough. The carbon emissions arising from the aggressive action can be thought of as a preventative action reducing the total amount of carbon by ‘motivating’ these family C entities to hasten their emission reduction even if it costs percentage points in their GDP.
While some individuals like to portray nations like China ‘green’ because of their investment in solar and wind energy, these investments are not replacing fossil fuel energy sources, but are augmenting them. Even conservative estimates have China emissions peaking at 2025 and most of this increase will be driven by further investment in a fossil fuel energy infrastructure.1 This investment will result in a slow decrease from that peak further increasing probability for climate reaction detriment. Other nations, like the United States, are reducing emissions due to slower growth in cooperation with small improvements in efficiency and non-fossil fuel energy generation, but are increasing coal exports to other nations. Also they are increasing natural gas production, which when including fracking elements shows only a slight emission profile improvement over coal in the safety quality scenarios and worse emission profiles in scenarios lacking safety diligence, which are much more common.2
It is important to note that the execution of the war would not be of the ‘total war’ variety, but would be surgical strikes against large carbon emitting structures like coal and natural gas power plants, cement factories, aluminum and other metal factories, etc. However, it stands to reason that there will be collateral damage from both the strikes themselves (due to shift workers at the facilities and flying debris nearby areas) and loss of services provided by the destroyed facilities.
It is reasonable to assume that the populous of the attacked country will not understand the reasoning behind the attack and will demand their country strike back in a fit of enhanced nationalistic fervor. The biggest question in this reaction is the type of attack strategy utilized in the counter-attack. Would the counter-attack involve a reciprocation of targets (large carbon emitting structures and/or power generating facilities) or would it have no focus and regress to total war? Due to the nature of modern warfare the only effective means to counter-attack for most of the ‘family C’ nations would involve an aerial assault.
A counter-attack utilizing direct payload transport could be defended against rather routinely with proper preparation. Therefore, a manned flight or drone-based counter-attack should not be a concern. The chief counter-attack concern should be ballistic missile either nuclear or non-nuclear. Despite an expected bout of nationalism from the population, leaders of the attacked country would be hard-pressed to justify a nuclear derived assault to other bystander nations. The simple fact is that mutual assured destruction (MAD) has always been in effect and will always be in effect, thus a nuclear assault is almost impossible to consider. Even without MAD a nuclear assault falls under the same purview as CO2 emissions in that the nuclear material will not remain localized and only affect local regions. No organized nation would risk the blowback from using nuclear weapons on either a diplomatic or environmental level, thus the only reasonable counter-attack to fear is a non-nuclear ballistic missile.
Another strategy could be declaring war against a ‘family B’ who is aiding the waste created by family C. For example in the real world the European Union could declare war on Australia who exports large amounts of coal to China, Japan and India. This strategy may evade the potential problematic nationalistic elements that would aggravate the war strategy with counter-attacks. Also most of the supplier countries have less developed militaries than the heavier emitters making them, for lack of a better term, easier targets with less collateral damage potential while still producing significant emission reduction results.
It is understandable that some would believe a declaration of war strategy to be too aggressive and would instead support international sanctions against these suppliers. Certainty coal export sanctions against a country like Australia would be a smoother strategy for reducing exports to China and India versus conducting military action. While theoretically correct it would take significant international cooperation to make such sanctions work, cooperation similar to that required for a carbon mitigation climate treaty, cooperation that does not appear to be forthcoming.
For example consider that lack of cooperation regarding sanctions of Iran. Russia and Iran have a trade relationship worth 3.7 billion dollars3 and China and Iran have a trade relationship worth almost 50 billion dollars, which prevents either from getting behind economic sanctions.4 Australia exports 40 - 70 billion dollars of coal (obviously the price fluctuates) annually with about 23.5 – 41.1 billion going to China, India and Japan.5 Think China, India or Japan is getting on board with economic sanctions of Australia? It stands to reason that they could significantly dent any economic sanctions by absorbing most, if not all, of the export losses Australia would incur to participating sanctioning nations while maintaining coal purchases.
Another important aspect to consider is the element of global economic disruption. Forcefully reducing carbon emissions will result in a disrupted supply chain from the affected country. This disruption will lead to price increases for those countries that receive exports. However, such a strategy can also produce opportunities for new businesses within those export affected regions. Proper preparations must be made to directly address these potential disruptions. To this point it must be asked what is more important: an individual allowing his/her grandchild the opportunity to live long enough to have his/her own children or the ability to purchase the next model of the iPhone at a 100 dollar discount or some other material object at a small discount?
Overall the idea discussed above is one of last resort, but disturbingly enough is becoming more and more relevant with each passing year of limited action on reducing carbon emissions. Climate negotiations have failed numerous times to produce any global emission reduction strategy that is not entirely voluntary. Superficial goals like reducing carbon intensity will not stop the threat to the global environment. Time is of the essence as the global environment is responding more negatively and more quickly than previously thought to the increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere and oceans. Can rational people allow the desires of a small group of individuals to not only endanger their own future, but the future of everyone else living on the planet even if the only response left is violence?
1. Zhou, N, et Al. “China’s Energy and Carbon Emissions Outlook to 2050.” China Energy Group Energy Analysis Department Environmental Energy Technologies Division Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 2011.
2. Howarth, R, Santoro, R, and Ingraffea, A. “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations.” Climatic Change. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0061-5.
4. Payvand Iran News, http://www.payvand.com/news/12/apr/1001.html