An intelligence forecast being prepared for the next president on future global risks envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades, as the world is reshaped by globalization, battered by climate change, and destabilized by regional upheavals over shortages of food, water and energy.
The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority — military power — will “be the least significant” asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because “nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force.”
Duh. And yet the federal government spends more than $500 billion a year on military security, and maybe 1 percent of that on climate or energy security. Fingar is a remarkably broad thinking guy, which may well be why he is our top intelligence analyst. He has the kind of reality-based alarmism that inevitably comes from the genuine understanding of the facts of global warming:
The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.
For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest.
(Glad to see somebody serious understands what is coming.)
He said U.S. intelligence agencies accepted the consensual scientific view of global warming, including the conclusion that it is too late to avert significant disruption over the next two decades. The conclusions are in line with an intelligence assessment produced this summer that characterized global warming as a serious security threat for the coming decades.
Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world.
In short, the time to act is yesterday. Facing catastrophes of Biblical scale, I make only a small apology to Omar Khayam:
The Moving Fingar writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
And as long as Fingar has put us in the apocalyptic mood, let’s go back to the source, the Book of Daniel, the ancient — and yet all too modern — story of an empire brought down by its own myopic profligacy, a story that also gave us the all too appropriate phrase, “The Handwriting on the Wall”:
1 Belshaz’zar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
2 Â¶ Belshaz’zar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnez’zar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, might drink therein.
3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, drank in them.
4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
5 Â¶ In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chalde’ans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
8 Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof …
The Queen knew that Daniel was just the guy to interpret this. He was, you might say, the top intelligence analyst of his time. So Daniel came and pointed out that the King had turned away from God and “hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know.” Then Daniel turned to the words of the moving finger and famously explained:
25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHAR’SIN.
26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
Of course, in our case, the handwriting on the wall comes not from a moving finger, but from the painful reality of scientific understanding and observation as transcribed and interpreted by our top scientists and the likes of the very moving Mr. Fingar.
Humanity is being weighed in the balances. Let’s all hope we are not found wanting.