Tag Archives: War

Military Preparedness and Global Warming

Arkansas Pols in particular and the Republican dominated congress more generally don’t seem to think much of the risk of global warming. Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the US Senate famously said something to the effect that global warming is the greatest hoax ever played on the American people. Actually he said this hoax was second only to the separation of church and state, but we’ll save that for another discussion.

The Environmental Protection Agency begs to differ. After years of planning they have released a clean power plan aimed to curb the release of Carbon Dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. This will not only reduce the risk of global warming but also clean our air of a number of pollutants harmful to health.

Another agency that disagrees is the Pentagon. They think global warming is real and in fact have released a report ”2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in an address to the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas said that “Rising global temperatures, increasing sea levels and intensifying weather events will challenge global stability and could lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease and disputes over refugees and resources.“

Secretary Hagel went on: “The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.”

Without claiming that the troubles in the near east are due directly to global warming, it is true that climate change can only make a regional problem worse. There is no doubt that severe weather such as floods and droughts further stress difficulties in any society.

US military flood relief, Colorado 2013

US military flood relief, Colorado 2013

This report is only the latest is a number of reports addressing the risk of global warming. The report is however noteworthy in that for the first time the pentagon recognizes global warming as a real threat now, rather than something to be dealt with in the future.

US National Guard provied search and rescue for Hurricane Sandy

US National Guard provied search and rescue for Hurricane Sandy

The pentagon report has indicated that a number of consequences must be addressed. Coastal military installations that are vulnerable to flooding will need to be altered, humanitarian assistance missions will be more frequent in the face of more intense natural disasters, and weapons and other critical military equipment will need to work under more severe weather conditions.

Obviously there is considerable disagreement between the views of the senator from Oklahoma and the leadership of the mightiest military in the world concerning the real risk of global warming. When such dissonance occurs we each have to decide who to believe. On the one hand we have congress, with an approval rating near single digits and on the other the military, sworn to protect us. It’s your call.

Syrian Civil War and Sarin, a WMD

The drums of war seem to be getting louder. In August 2012 President Obama said “ a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around …that’s a red line for us.” The crossing of the red line would then imply that the US should become involved in the two year old Syrian civil war. So far the evidence seems limited and far from conclusive.

If nothing else we should be wary of weak evidence of the possession or use of weapons of mass destruction as justification for going to war. So lets examine what we do know. What we have to go on is soil samples that were smuggled out of Syria. Laboratory analysis of the samples suggested traces of a nerve gas known as Sarin. Actually because Sarin is quite reactive the only thing to be detected would be hydrolysis products due to the reaction with water in the air or soil. Also there was hearsay evidence of witnesses claiming to have seen victims of exposure to Sarin.

Sarin is a very toxic nerve agent. It actually isn’t a gas but rather a liquid designed to be aerosolized, meaning sprayed as a fine mist. Contact with bare skin or especially inhalation causes a number of symptoms ranging from heavy salivation, profuse sweating, muscle cramps, convulsions and death resulting from respiratory paralysis. Not pretty, huh?

Sarin is a member of a class of poisons known as Acetyl Choline Esterase Inhibitors. Other substances that have the same effect, but lower toxicity are a number of insecticides. Even the relatively safe house and garden type insecticides kill insects by the same mechanism. So how do they work?

Imagine you want to wiggle your big toe. A message travels from your brain via several nerves “talking” to each other to get the signal all the way to your toe. For the signal to get from one nerve to the next requires the opening and then closing of a “gate.”Synapse_Illustration_unlabeled.svg The gate opening allows the signal and the closing stops the signal. If the gate doesn’t close your toe would continue to wiggle. That is the way Sarin and other Acetyl Choline Esterase Inhibitors work. They keep the gate open. A small stimulation of a nerve can’t be turned off. The affected tissue is overstimulated. When the affected tissue is the chest muscles, your breathing is disrupted.

Now back to the weapons of mass destruction. Recall the President Obama said “bunches of” WMDs. The evidence so far for the presence or use is inconclusive. We don’t know who used them if they were used at all. We don’t know how much was used but the only evidence suggests limited rather than widespread use. We don’t know where they were used or how many people were affected. This is not the evidence we need to spend our blood and treasure yet again in the middle east.