Sunday evening I attended the kickoff of a CNAS war game, Clout & Climate Change, examining the intersection of climate policy and national security. I’m on the science advisory team, along with Drew Jones and Lori Siegel from the Sustainability Institute. We hope to provide real-time, model-based decision support. The exercise brings together a rather extraordinary talent pool, so it’s a daunting task.
Peter Schwartz delivered an opening talk on scenario planning; he made a compelling case for robust thinking. He also set a tone that has haunted much of the subsequent proceedings: there are striking technological options for dealing with climate, but progress is difficult because people are caught up in their individual worlds (they want more stuff). As a result, he expects that lots of adaptation will be needed. Negotiations since have borne out his framing: aggressive targets (-80% by 2050) appear elusive in the face of the perceived need for continued economic growth to keep US and EU workers happy, avoid regime change in China, and provide for development in the poorest regions.
Paty Romero-Lankao asked the key question of the evening. To paraphrase crudely, she wondered whether a focus on technology and adaptation missed the point; that one must also address the lifestyle issues that are the underlying driver of growth. Amen. Lifestyle is a tougher nut to crack than technology, but to borrow Peter’s phrase guiding scenario planning, it’s important to avoid thinking, “that can’t happen.”