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Covid and Climate Change Push South Asia Toward a Complex Emergency

By Sarang Shidore and Andrea Rezzonico 

As Cyclone Tauktae hurtled toward India’s west coast on May 17, a grim scenario outlined in  Amitav Ghosh’s eloquent meditation on climate change, The Great Derangement, suddenly loomed as a distinct possibility. A direct hit on the megapolis of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, Ghosh wrote, could wreak damage far greater than the city’s monster flood of 2005. To the prospect of massive flooding and failure of essential services, Ghosh added the spectacle of corrugated iron roofs from the city’s teeming informal settlements turning into deadly projectiles slamming into its upscale glass towers, and major radioactive leakage in the city’s decades-old nuclear complex. The scenario is only too realistic, and may presage frequent complex emergency moments in South Asia, in which multiple risks (ranging from climate change to health, geopolitics, and governance) converge in a positive feedback loop, creating extensive dislocation and damage to large human populations. 

The Arabian Sea, on the coast of which Mumbai is located, has historically seen far less cyclonic activity than the more turbulent Bay of Bengal to its east. Bangladesh and the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, for example, are no strangers to major storms and attendant evacuation of tens of millions of people – with a potential new cyclone brewing even at the time of writing. But the Arabian Sea’s major urban agglomerations in South Asia – Mumbai and Karachi – but also Goa, Kochi, Mangalore and others, have generally had an easy ride, with Mumbai not seeing a serious cyclone in its vicinity in four decades.


Complex Emergencies and Alliance Strength

Progress of storms and hurricanes (green) and wildfires (orange), 9/16/2020

By Christine Parthemore

Late summer 2020 is serving as yet another reminder that the 21st century will be profoundly shaped by complex and compounding emergencies. In the United States alone, the confluence of severe natural disasters with the COVID-19 pandemic is jarring even those of us who focus on such threats for a living. Multiple hurricanes and tropical storms are proceeding toward the East and Gulf Coasts. The wildfire season across the Western U.S. is creating apocalyptic conditions. As Robinson Meyer described in The Atlantic, “In 2018…I noted that six of the 10 largest wildfires in state history had happened since 2008. That list has since been completely rewritten. Today, six of California’s 10 largest wildfires have happened since 2018—and five of them have happened this year.” At the same time, as of mid-September the nation is still seeing around 39,000 new COVID-19 cases being reported each day as we near a staggering 200,000 deaths from this pandemic. These events are overlaid on the profound shifts resulting from decades of injustice and systemic racism in our society.


“Massive Investments in Resilience Needed”: Climate Lessons from Covid

The Chandler Foundation recently released its “Social Investor” magazine, an influential guide to philanthropists and a particularly important one during a time of crisis. In a section titled “Climate Philanthropy Matters,” the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Laurie Goering interviewed the Co-Founder of the Center for Climate and Security and Council on Strategic Risks, Francesco Femia, about what the COVID-19 crisis can teach nations about preparing their critical infrastructure for climate change. Mr. Femia highlighting the need for “massive investments in resilience” as well as “climate-proofing” that infrastructure. Read the except below (from page 68), and the entire publication here.


Science suppression is a security threat – whether climate or covid

Femia_Francesco_2019By Francesco Femia

A little over a year ago, the White House tried to block the testimony of a respected professional, Dr. Rod Schoonover – senior analyst and senior scientist in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. Department of State, and former Director of Environment and Natural Resources at the National Intelligence Council (and, full disclosure, a current member of the Center for Climate and Security’s Advisory Board). The reason? The White House thought the written testimony, which included widely-accepted descriptions of the state of climate change science, didn’t sit well with the President’s political take on the subject. And so National Security Council staff tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress it. In response, I told the Washington Post:

“This is an intentional failure of the White House to perform a core duty: inform the American public of the threats we face. It’s dangerous and unacceptable. Any attempt to suppress information on the security risks of climate change threatens to leave the American public vulnerable and unsafe.”

Last Friday, the White House once again attempted to suppress science. This time by blocking the testimony of the CDC Director, Robert Redfield, on how to reopen schools safely, from the CDC’s scientifically-driven public health perspective. Without any exaggeration, my words from last June on the suppression of climate science in intelligence analysis are wholly relevant today, by simply replacing “climate change” with “COVID-19.” The pattern is alarmingly consistent, and threatens many Americans with sickness and death – including members of my own family. And so I offer the following words in response to the blocking of the CDC Director’s testimony by the White House:

“This is an intentional failure of the White House to perform a core duty: inform the American public of the threats we face. It’s dangerous and unacceptable. Any attempt to suppress information on the risks of COVID-19 threatens to leave the American public vulnerable and unsafe.”

The suppression of science, particularly on the scale we’re seeing today, is – simply put – a security threat. Anyone who cares about the security of the American public, and the nation as a whole, should be deeply concerned. My colleagues and I at the Council on Strategic Risks certainly are, and will be raising a red flag anytime it occurs in the future.

Francesco Femia is the Co-Founder, Research Director and former CEO of the Council on Strategic Risks and the Center for Climate and Security.


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