This new documentary looks at the impacts of climate change on national security and global stability. Filmmakers conducted interviews with many experts including CSWCR Director David Titley. Dr. Titley also appeared at the world premiere of the documentary at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto in May 2016.
Dr. David Titley with director Jared Scott and executive producer Sophie Robinson
The central message of this exceptionally well-made documentary is put by ex- Brigadier General, the CEO of The Center for Climate & Security, Stephen Cheney “Climate change is what we call an accelerant to instability”
The documentary details the effects of climate change in the Middle East where a three-year drought that has affected wide areas and produced population shifts towards the cities.
These population shifts, the documentary argues, have produced large disaffected and unemployed groups that have become fertile breeding grounds for the revolutionary and terrorist messages of ISIS.
The documentary does not argue that climate change is the sole reason for conflict in the Middle East. It is an “accelerant”, an underlying cause. That argument is probably undeniable.
The documentary also makes a point, which is not developed in any detail, that future conflict in this region will be over control of increasingly scarce water resources.
Where the documentary begins to be rather more disturbing is in the implicit argument that there is support in the US military for action on climate change. This may not be the case.
The case may be that the US military is arguing for increased funding and military spending to provide military solutions to the second-order effects of climate change.
The first step in the argument presented in the documentary is to use people such as ex-Brigadier General Stephen Cheney.
It’s only a short step from using Cheney to using excerpts of other members of the US military giving testimonies to Senate committees that include reference to climate change particularly arguing the case of the impact of scarce water resources in the Middle East.
So now we get images of serious men in uniform, with lots of medals and serious faces, presumably arguing the case for climate change.
Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favour of arguing the case.
But we need to be very aware of how it’s being done. In this case is done by using images of powerful authority figures and the shock impact of having them argue a case that you would not expect them to argue. It’s very effective.
There are also frightening and disturbing images of the war in the the Middle East and of displaced refugees.
However, the use of these snippets raises the question of the context in which they were being presented.
The documentary gives the impression that there is widespread support for action on climate change within the US military.
But is this the case?
What may be the case is that the US military is using climate change as an argument for increased military spending (which in the case of the Trump ministration would appear to have been very successful).
A more important message from this documentary is that changing sea levels and water scarcity will cause migration and instability on a global level.
This point was emphasised by a Bangladeshi general who said that 30 million people in his country were affected by changing sea levels.
This was linked to the border conflict between his country in India which is defined by a double razor wire fence and patrolled by the Indian Army which, apparently, shoots anyone who tries to cross the border.
Does the use of these images to support the argument from climate change represent a dangerous and subtle shift towards propaganda?
Is it a dramatic oversimplification to say that climate change can be linked to the border conflicts between Bangladesh and India? Probably yes.
This week’s Q and A addressed the problem of fake news and how we distinguish between what is true and not true. That’s been a problem that was articulated many years ago by Pontius Pilate. Still true today.
And this particular documentary represents the problem in its most invidious way.
The documentary addresses a problem that is one of the great moral challenges of our century (sorry couldn’t resist that one). But the methods it uses are bordering, ever so slightly, on the dubious.
It is invidious because, when it’s a cause that you support, you’re inclined to let it go through to the keeper.