Dr. Gregory F. Treverton, the newly-appointed chairman of the US National Intelligence Council (NIC), sat down with the Atlantic Council on December 1 for his first on-the-record discussion on adapting intelligence for national security efforts. In context of a rich discussion on shifting risks and priorities, the conversation turned to the security implications of climate change. Below is a transcription of a question Dr. Treverton was asked on the subject, and his response. For more on the US intelligence community’s products on climate change and security, see the intelligence section of our Climate Security Resource Hub.
Q. Fred Tipson, US Institute of Peace: Greg, how do you factor into your judgments the stresses from demographic bulges and climate volatility and the sorts of things that must be in your new book?
A. Gregory Treverton: Yeah, we talk about that a lot in the new book. And also, they factor into all of our work all the time. And I think it is often said that demographics is destiny and the more you look out the more important it becomes. So, I think, I hope we do a good job. We certainly try hard at the NIC. We have a Strategic Futures Group and they’ve done an awful lot of good work on the implications of climate change – sort of the political and security implications of climate change – which is probably the right focus for us. Also good work on demographics as well as governance, and there are interesting cells around the government. I see some representatives here who are doing similar thinking about, you know, state instability, about youth bulges, about those things. So, there’s, I think a lot of good work. The challenge is always, you know, it’s easy to say about a particular state: well, this state is vulnerable. But policy people understandably want: Well, when is something going to happen? What’s the trigger, right? And that’s very hard. Who would have thought that a salesman in Tunisia would have had the kind of affect that that event had? So, I think we do a good job at understanding the basic dynamics. When those dynamics are going to produce an interesting change or event – that’s a real challenge.