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The Times’ diplomatic editor has a new wheeze for military planners

The Times’ diplomatic editor, Roger Boyes, has been looking at the case for the military to plan for climate change. It’s fair to say that he has made a bit of a hash of it.

For example, we learn from his article that many domestic bases of the US army “could be flooded and out of action in 35 years’ time”. With sea level currently rising (if you believe the figures) at a rate of 3 mm per year, he is talking about  a rise of 10 cm. Are we seriously to believe that US army bases are only 10 cm above sea level? That strikes me as somewhat implausible. Despite the absurdity of it all, Boyes then leaps to discussing the effect of sea level rises of a metre (which would take three centuries at 3 mm per year). Such a rise would, he says, cause much of Bangladesh to disappear beneath the waves. He apparently hasn’t heard that the accretion of silt washed down from the Himalayas is currently outpacing any sea level rise and that as a result Bangladesh is getting bigger.

We also learn that “Diego Garcia, an important staging post for Afghanistan operations, is extremely vulnerable, its protective coral reefs being steadily eroded.” Regular followers of the climate scene will probably know of the work of Paul Kench, whose specialism is in surveying changes in area of coral atolls over time. He finds that contrary to the wild claims of environmentalists and journalists, most are stable or increasing in size. I’m not sure who spun a yarn to Roger Boyes about Diego Garcia, but the academic literature suggests a very different story to the one appearing in his article. According to a paper by Purkis et al., “the areal extent of Diego Garcia has been almost static for the last half century”. Whoops, Mr Boyes, oh whoops.

Much of the article is just unsubstantiated scaremongering: “The east coasts of China and India could be hit by devastating floods. The Caribbean and central America are likely to be inundated.” Says who? On what basis? One could just as easily say that the east coasts of  China and India could be engulfed by pleasant waves of mild and comfortable weather. It is not controversial to say that climate models, which tend to be behind the sort of wiffle that Boyes is engaging in, can tell us precisely nothing about the future climate on regional scales.

Military planners have long been lampooned because of their tendency to make preparations for the last war. I’m not sure that Boyes’ idea – of making preparations for the war after the war after the war after next – is going to do anything to rebuild their position in public esteem.