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Climate Change and National Security, Public Health



Climate Change and National Security Through the Lens of Key Federal Publications

Climate Change and National Security Through the Lens of Key Federal Publications

by Susan Maret for Project Censored

As I write, the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) has concluded. COP24 was held at Katowice, Poland from December 3-17, 2018 and brought together representatives from 200 governments to adopt guidelines for the Paris Agreement. The foundational document for COP24 was IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Global Warming of 1.5°C, with 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) as a goal set by Paris. The IPCC report was approved by representatives from 195 nations, including the U.S.; during COP24, the U.S., Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, however, failed to endorse the report arguing that IPCC’s study should be “noted” not “welcomed.”

Leading up to COP24, climate change has been linked to human security and conflict, been the subject of scientific urgency, innovative modeling, and the target of deception by the fossil fuel industry,. Climate-related change is the focus of secrecycensorshipdenial, media distortionsuppression of speech, and conspiracy thinking. For example, oil companies such as Shell failed to disclose internal assessments on environmental damage caused by fossil fuels; the Environmental Protection Agency removed and discontinued providing educational information on climate change from its Web site; National Park Service archaeologist Marcy Rockman resigned, voicing concerns over the lack of protection over cultural resources affected by climate change; and the two volume peer-reviewed Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) released in late November, 2018, contains a chilling forecast for humanity in its volume 2:

  • Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly challenge the quality and quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability and rural livelihoods.
  • Continued changes to Earth’s climate will cause major disruptions in some ecosystems. Some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing transformational changes, affecting communities and economies that rely upon them.
  • Changes in the quality and quantity of fresh water available for people and the environment are increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry and recreation.
  • Climate change will transform coastal regions by the latter part of this century, with ripple effects on other regions and sectors. Many communities should expect higher costs and lower property values from sea level rise.
  • Climate change threatens the health and well-being of the American people by causing increasing extreme weather, changes to air quality, the spread of new diseases by insects and pests, and changes to the availability of food and water.

Post COP24, the World Health Organization’s report, Health and Climate Change, recommends that the effects of “health-damaging” air pollution and greenhouse gases be integrated into fiscal and economic policies (p.17, 63). An additional recommendation made by the Organization is monitoring mitigation efforts by way of the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 13. Goal 13 is linked to the right to health as recognized by the Paris Agreement and numerous human rights instruments.

National Security (Re)Visioned

In 1977, scientist and founder of the Worldwatch Institute, Lester Brown, wrote the prescient Redefining National Security. In his essay, Brown suggests that the “overwhelmingly military character” of national security ignores natural threats to human societies and ecosystems. Brown observed these “new threats to national security will challenge the information-gathering and analytical skills of government” (p. 36). More importantly, Brown notes

the purpose of national security deliberations should not be to maximize military strength but to maximize national security. If this latter approach were used, public resources would be distributed more widely among the many threats to national security – both the traditional military one and the newer, less precisely measured ones. (p.37)

To place Brown’s comments in context, a Joint Chiefs of Staff publication titled Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (JP 1, March 25, 2013) describes national security historically as a

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Collective term encompassing both national defense and foreign relations of the United States with the purpose of gaining: a. military or defense advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations; b. A favorable foreign relations position; or c. A defense posture capable of successfully resisting hostile or destructive action from within or without, overt or covert. (GL-9)

On the tail end of COP24, I find myself pondering Brown’s ideas, especially in terms of how climate change is portrayed in major defense and intelligence publications over the past decade. Even though the current U.S. response to COP24 favors a type of denial rooted in vested interest, I was curious to learn how certain agencies, bodies, and presidential administrations viewed climate change in their public communiques. To this end, I reviewed a number of official federal publications to discover how these entities came to designate climate change as a social problem in its own right – that is, “what people decide what is and is not a social problem by the way they react to things.” [1]

The Publications: Glacial Thinking & Hashing Out A Problem

The U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the

the Intelligence Community’s (IC) Global Trends (compiled by National Intelligence Council, or NIC) Global Trends and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) annually published Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the quasi-annual National Security Strategy of the United States, published by the Office of the President, are but a few official publications where the deep connections between climate change and national security are inconsistently identified and analyzed. Below I report on how connections between climate change and national security are reported these publications.


The Quadrennial Defense Review was first published in 1997 and ceased in 2017. It is indeed a puzzlement that discussion of climate change wasn’t included in the early iterations of the QDR, for as Michael Fincham reports in October 2003, “a little known think tank in the Department of Defense quietly released a report warning that climate change could happen suddenly – so suddenly it could pose a major threat to our country’s national security.” In response to the lack of climate discussion in the QDR, John T. Ackerman, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, argued for DOD to include the influence of climate change on the armed forces. It isn’t until the 2010 version of the QDR that climate change is identified as an “accelerant of instability and conflict” and that “extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support” (p. 85). [2]

In the final volume of QDR published in 2014climate change, food, water, energy security, and the search for new technologies are examined in an interconnected manner – in fact, this volume of the QDR distinguished climate change as a “threat multiplier,” a concept used by CNA in 2007 in its report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. The QDRobserves that climate-related change is a security threat to countries worldwide:

The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will

aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable

terrorist activity and other forms of violence. (p. 8)

Lastly, DoD published its Report on National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate as part of the H.R. 4870, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (July 23, 2015). DoD writes that this report

reinforces the fact that global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries. (p. 3)

This report singled out “four general areas of climate-related security risks” as targeted by Geographic Combatant Commands (the various “COMs,” such as USCENTCOM, USNORTHCOM, etc.) are outlined as:  

  • Persistently recurring conditions such as flooding, drought, and higher temperatures
  • Extreme weather events
  • Sea level rise and temperature changes
  • Decreases in Arctic ice cover, type, and thickness (p.3-5)

The IC /
National Intelligence Council

The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends is issued every four years since 1997 and details “how key trends and uncertainties might shape the world over the next 20 years to help senior US leaders think and plan for the longer term.”

NIC’s Global Trends 2015 (published December, 2000), barely mentions global warming and greenhouse gases in terms of a challenge to the U.S. and international community; Global Trends 2020: Mapping the Global Future widely discusses climate change as a problem through to the year 2020. However, by the 2008 publication of Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, climate change presents center stage, characterized as a “security issue” (p. xi). Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds (2012) and Global Trends: Paradox of Progress (2017) connects civil unrest to food and water (in)security caused by climate change, and hence as critical factors in maintaining national and international security. [3]

In September 2016, NIC released Implications for US National Security of Anticipated Climate ChangeIn this report, the Council identified that climate change “and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years” (p.3). NIC outlined the following “pathways” where national security may be compromised by the effects of climate related-change:

  • Threats to the stability of countries
  • Heightened social and political tensions
  • Adverse effects on food prices and availability
  • Increased risks to human health
  • Negative impacts on investments and economic competitiveness
  • Potential climate discontinuities and secondary surprises.

The IC /
Office of the Director of National Intelligence

The first Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community was published with a “statement for the record” by ODNI John Negroponte; the 2006 and 2007 volumes center on the contemporary problem of terrorism (ODNI Negroponte), with much the same commentary in the 2008 edition (ODNI J. Michael McConnell). However, beginning with the 2009 volume (ODNI Dennis C. Blair), climate change increasingly becomes a priority security issue alongside terrorism, cybersecurity, resource depletion, energy security, WMDs, pandemics, and mass atrocities; in the 2014 volume (ODNI Clapper), the Assessment recognizes that “extreme weather events” and a “general warming trend is probably affecting weather and ecosystems…in recent years, local food, water, energy, health, and economic security have been episodically degraded worldwide by severe weather conditions” (p.11). By the 2015 edition, climate change is singled out as a factor “in the distribution of vectors for diseases” and extreme weather events (p.11).

With the 2016 annual volume (ODNI Clapper), the Assessment dramatically shifts in its discussion in connecting

extreme weather, climate change, environmental degradation, related rising demands for food and water, poor policy responses, and inadequate critical infrastructure will probably exacerbate and – and potentially spark – political instability, adverse health conditions, and humanitarian crises in 2016. (p.13-14)

The 2017 report (ODNI Coats) is noteworthy for the IC’s statement on the record that they “assess national security implications of climate change but do not adjudicate the science of climate change.” In its report, the ODNI/IC defers to science in the form of

US government-coordinated scientific reports, peer reviewed literature, and reports produced by the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the leading international body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change. (p.14)

The 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community (ODNI Coats) again stresses extreme weather events, a “warming climate,” and other “drivers” that

raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water, food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. Research has not identified indicators of tipping points in climate-linked earth systems, suggesting the possibility of abrupt climate change. (p.16)

The President /
The National Security Strategy of the United States

It is the National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS) that represents the official face of U.S. national security priorities. [4] The NSS is submitted in classified and unclassified versions as directed by the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-433, October 1, 1986), which states that a sitting president “shall transmit to Congress each year a comprehensive report on the national security strategy of the United States.” Per the Act, the NSS is distributed “on the date on which the President submits to Congress the budget for the next fiscal year.”

Among the information included in the annual NSS volume is “a comprehensive description and discussion of the following: (1) The worldwide interests, goals, and objectives of the United States that are vital to the national security of the United States.” NSS editions are variously titled; for instance, the Clinton administration’s NSS are creatively titled National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement (1994) and National Security Strategy for a New Century (1997).

It is important to note that even though mandated by Goldwater-Nichols, historically the NSS has not been annually published. Case in point, the NSS was unevenly published from the Reagan through Obama administrations; in particular, the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidential administrations are notable for not publishing the annual NSS as required by Goldwater-Nichols.

A quick read of NSS volumes indicate that climate change was not historically a priority issue. However, certain NSS volumes compiled by presidential administrations that do include discussion of this security challenge are:

  • The 1991 NSS (GHW Bush administration) briefly mentions climate change;
  • The 1994 NSS (Clinton) is ambitious in its discussion of a National (Action) Climate Plan and compliance with the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting chemicals. The idea of environmental security – that is, environmental degradation has a resulting impact on national security – has its genesis in this NSS [5];
  • The 1997 NSS (Clinton) suggests that climate change, associated environmental challenges, and sustainable development require global partnerships;
  • The 2002 NSS (GW Bush) notes that “economic growth should be accompanied by global efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions associated with this growth, containing them at a level that prevents dangerous human interference with the global climate.” The Bush NSS also recommends increased spending on “research and conservation technologies”;
  • The 2010 NSS (Obama) suggests that a “global effort to combat climate change must draw on national actions,” but these efforts must be “incentivized, so nations that choose to do so their part see the benefits of responsible actions”;
  • The 2015 NSS (Obama) perhaps goes deeper than any other NSS published during previous administrations in thinking of climate change in a ecosystems way. That is, this NSS not only notes the “accelerating impact of climate change,” but plainly states “climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water. The present-day effects of climate change are being felt from the Arctic to the Midwest.”This NSS also marks international progress and U.S. contributions to the global community in targeting emissions through the Climate Action Plan, Copenhagen Accord (UN Conference on Climate Change, 2009), the Green Climate Fund, and the Montreal Protocol.

The sole NSS issued by the Trump administration in 2017 characterizes climate in terms of “America’s business climate” (p.21), an “investor-friendly climate” (p.22), and “energy dominance” within the context of an “anti-growth energy agenda” (p.22). In what can only be characterized as a deliberate lack of vision – not ignorance – climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases, extreme weather events, water security and scarcity, and their effects on U.S. domestic and national security are noticeably absent – all factors that press on human security. [6] This is not only a glaring error, it is disturbingly contradictory, as Congress and the Trump administration seemingly “affirm that climate change threatens security” and requested the U.S. military to plan for the effects of climate change.

Also absent from the Trump administration’ NSS and 2017-2018 defense and IC publications is Obama Presidential Memorandum (September 21, 2016), Climate Change and National Security. The Memorandum

establishes a framework and directs Federal departments and agencies (agencies) to perform certain functions to ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.


Climate change is now almost universally recognized as a grave challenge to the national security of the U.S. and its global counterparts. As illustrated in this essay, it took decades for climate change and its association with national security to capture the imagination of certain federal bodies. [6] The particular  publications discussed here exemplify how challenges are characterized in the federal universe and elevated to the status of an “official” or recognized social problem; on another level, these publications stand as forecasting tools and indicators of warning and uncertainty. [7] In effect, the documents produced by DoD, the Intelligence Community, and presidential administrations are fodder for policymaking and sustainable action if political will prevails.

Susan Maret, Ph.D. teaches information secrecy and other courses at the iSchool, San Jose State University. In addition to research and writing on various aspects of secrecy, she is also the managing editor of the open access, peer-reviewed journal Secrecy and Society. Maret has published two previous chapters in Project Censored’s annual books by Seven Stories Press, “Contested Visions, Imperfect Information, and the Persistence of Conspiracy Theories” for Censored 2017,and “The Public and its Problems: ‘Fake News’ and the Battle for Hearts and Minds” for Censored 2019, and has shared her Information Integrity Checklist online with their partnering organization, the Global Critical Media Literacy Project here


1. Harris, S.R. (2013). Studying the construction of social problems. In J.

Best & S.R. Harris (Eds.) Making sense of social problems: New images,

new issues (p.1-9) Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

2. DoD’s Climate Change Adaptation RoadmapDepartment of Defense Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan FY-2014acknowledges the critical role of the 2010 QDR; we are left to wonder, however, why only one climate roadmap was compiled by DoD. See

3. See John Cushman, Jr. (2018). Intelligence agencies warn of climate risks in Worldwide Threat Assessment. Inside Climate News, February 23,

4. McClelland argues that the NSS should not be viewed as a “grand strategy,” and offers numerous examples where specific volumes may be considered forays into propaganda. See Patrick A. McClelland (2007), The United States National Security Strategy: Grand Strategy or Propaganda, Thesis, National Defense University, Joint Advanced Warfighting School, June 15, ADA468868,

5. See Gareth Porter’s (1995) Environmental security as a national security issue, Current History, 94(592), 218-222.

6. It appears that discussion of climate is also absent from the Affordable Clean Energy Proposal that appeared in the Federal Register, August 21, 2018, which captures this Administration’s short term thinking.

7. Uncertainty is discussed in the Congressional Budget Office (2018), Options for the reducing the deficit 2019-2028, December, See p. 292-293; also stated in CBO’s report are extreme weather events and futility of reducing emissions in the U.S. if there is not a global effort to attack the problem.

Source: Project Censored

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Oceans and Water

Time To Flip the Ocean Script — From Victim to Solution



By Virginia Gewin

The ocean was once thought too immense to fail, until bleached coral reefs, ocean acidification and depleted fisheries transformed it into what seemed a hopeless, depleted victim.

Now the ocean is primed for a new role, with emerging evidence pointing to a more hopeful narrative that the ocean offers untapped climate, food security and economic recovery solutions.

That’s the case being made by Jane Lubchenco, former administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who spoke Sept. 23 at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ virtual conference.

Former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco spoke about the future of oceans at SEJ’s virtual 2020 conference on Sept. 23.

At a workshop on oceans, climate and the 2020 election, Lubchenco pointed to the work of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, a diverse partnership of heads of state, including 14 world leaders, prime ministers and presidents — representing 30% of the world’s coastlines and 20% of the world’s fisheries — who have committed to transition to a sustainable ocean economy.

The panel has published an analysis that highlighted five ocean-based options able to meaningfully decrease global carbon emissions:

  • ocean-based renewable energy (wind and wave)
  • decarbonization of ocean-based transport
  • conservation of existing blue carbon in coastal and marine ecosystems
  • shifting of diets to sea-based protein
  • carbon storage in the seabed (the only option that requires further study)

Implementing all five actions could deliver roughly 20% of the greenhouse gas emission cuts needed by 2050 to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the panel’s analysis.

“Most of the international climate policy world focuses on land-based mitigation — transportation, buildings, energy generation,” Lubchenco told the virtual workshop participants. “The ocean has been out of sight, out of mind; based on this analysis, it needs to be squarely at the table.”


Future of food from the sea

Lubchenco further highlighted how ocean-based food security is on the rise. The 2006 overhaul of fisheries reform, she noted, is one of the least appreciated environmental success stories of the last few decades. In 2000, there were 92 overfished stocks; by 2019, that number had been slashed to 46.

“It is possible to end overfishing,” Lubchenco said. In addition, as of 2019, 47 stocks had been rebuilt amid a 21% increase in catch.

The ocean panel also looked at the future of food from the sea to publish a white paper (and subsequent peer-reviewed Nature study) that calculated the ocean could supply over six times more food than it does today — as a result of fisheries reforms as well as aquaculture, namely for bivalves such as mussels, oysters and clams.

To that end, Lubchenco mentioned an innovative new partnership among 10 top global companies called SeaBOS, or Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship, which is working to realize sustainable seafood production.


Report suggests big payoffs to ocean investments

Pivoting to how the ocean offers opportunities for an equitable, sustainable blue recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted that the ocean panel released a report in September detailing how investments in coastal restoration, seaweed or bivalve aquaculture, sewerage for coastal communities, renewable energy and zero-emission marine transport could pay off five-fold.

‘The ocean is so central to our health, prosperity and well-being, it’s too big to ignore.’

— Jane Lubchenco, former NOAA administrator

“The ocean is so central to our health, prosperity and well-being, it’s too big to ignore,” said Lubchenco.

She added a teaser for the Dec. 3 release of the ocean panel’s final report and a major policy announcement. Interested journalists can register for a Dec. 1 embargoed press conference by contacting Lauren Zelin of the World Resources Institute.

Later in the SEJ workshop, Lubchenco fielded questions on a range of topics including the scientific integrity of NOAA, the future of aquaculture, greater protections for marine reserves and U.S. readiness for sea level rise.

Ocean-related actions to mitigate climate change. Image: High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. Click to enlarge.

Asked to comment on the appointment and nomination of climate change deniers to key posts at NOAA, she expressed grave concern.

“When there are people in high-level positions that have the power to suppress, cherry-pick or distort information, it undermines the confidence Americans can have in NOAA,” Lubchenco said. Scientific progress, she noted, requires dissent or thinking out of left field, but it must be credible.

“The people nominated and appointed recently are not even in left field, they are miles from the ballpark,” Lubchenco  said, adding they posed a real threat to the nation.

She encouraged journalists to stay alert and file FOIAs to unearth any shenanigans that might be playing out.


Aquaculture needs clearer governance

Lubchenco also highlighted the status of aquaculture. Fish farming — specifically aquaculture that must be fed, such as salmon — continues to face significant environmental challenges.

In recent years there has been progress to reduce the amount of wild-capture fish needed to feed carnivorous farmed fish, she noted, but it is not yet considered sustainable.

Fish farms have also made modest improvements in dealing with diseases and waste. Lubchenco argued there’s so much more potential and so many fewer problems with bivalve aquaculture — for example, mussels, oysters, clams — because they feed on plankton in the water.

“The future, especially with climate change, will be on non-fed species,” added Lubchenco.

That said, she highlighted how it’s become clear that there is ambiguity over which federal agencies have the authority to manage aquaculture in federal waters — specifically to what extent the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that governs fisheries, also applies to aquaculture.


‘We are not well prepared at all for

sea level rise, as a nation or as a world.’

— Jane Lubchenco, former NOAA administrator


In the end, Lubchenco predicts Congress will have to weigh in and create a law to govern aquaculture.

Lastly, Lubchenco responded bluntly to a question from Portland-based journalist Lee van der Voo, about U.S. preparedness for sea level rise.

“We are not well prepared at all for sea level rise, as a nation or as a world,” she warned. While some states — notably California and New York — are addressing the issue, Lubchenco said the country needs to take parallel actions to mitigate the consequences of sea level rise in parallel with rapid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And to that end, she added, “we need federal government that is enabling that to happen, not preventing it from happening and not making it worse.”

The workshop was moderated by Robert McClure, co-founder and executive director of InvestigateWest, and an on-demand video is available to registered conference goers on the #SEJ2020 Whova app. Plus, check out this page of additional links and resources.

Virginia Gewin is a freelance science journalist based in the Pacific Northwest who covers climate change, agriculture, conservation and diversity in STEM. Her work has appeared in Nature, Science, Discover, Popular Science, Washington Post, Modern Farmer, Portland Monthly and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @VirginiaGewin.

Source: Society for environmental Journalists

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A web of Life for ALL Life

Allan Savory: A holistic management shift is required



"We need to findmore effective ways to amplify the stories of solutions"


Mr. Savory we know historically that the deterioration of food production systems in past civilizations and their inability to cognize encroaching complexity of population growth and governance in a holistic context leads to unbroken chain of civilizations’ collapsing. Do you think we still have time to avoid this on a global level now? Is there a way to create a new hope and new vision?

We we do not know, but Britain did not know if they could survive after the fall of France and most of Europe – but with good leadership, pushing aside egos and personal gain and acting on a war-footing they more than survived. Never has human civilization faced a graver danger than now with global finance and ecological illiteracy of our institutions driving the massive environmental degradation destroying our only habitat. Ordinary people know that all species, including humans cannot survive without suitable habitat. If world leaders (heads of governments and UN) put the massive environmental degradation that culminates in global desertification and the climate emergency on a war-footing and lead we have great hope for future generations.

Can you elaborate on the different impacts that ‘policy’ vs. ‘practice’ has on this impending problem of reforming agricultural systems worldwide?

Yes. Without agriculture there is no city, church, university, army, business or government – no civilization. Without a new regenerative form of agriculture (not crop production, but the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters) global civilization will fail. This is because all forms of agriculture historically have led to the failure of civilizations in all regions of the world and now the same threat is global. Few things in my life have taught society more clearly how interlinked our survival is than the present pandemic. Armies change civilizations. Farmers, foresters, fishermen, pastoralists destroy civilizations. So, we face the situation in which mainstream institutional, industrial agriculture led by our universities, governments and corporations supported by global finance, is the most destructive and extractive industry ever in history. And all forms of organic, sustainable, permaculture, grass production of livestock ever known led to failure of many civilizations in all regions long before chemicals and machinery.


So, if we keep discussing different practices and people keep vying for validity and funding for their favoured practice we know we will fail. What world leaders on a global war-footing need to do is to address agriculture at the policy level by focusing on the cause of agriculture, throughout history, being so environmentally, socially and economically destructive (while feeding ever growing numbers of people).

By governments and all large institutions addressing at policy level the cause of the ever-growing environmental destruction reflected in global desertification and climate change all nations will rapidly develop the required new regenerative agriculture. Very little new knowledge, not already available amongst the world’s farmers, fishermen, foresters, wildlife and livestock managers, universities and environmental organizations, is required. We do not lack detailed knowledge, we lack the ability to manage the social, cultural, environmental and economic complexity. That ability we only gained in 1984.

“If the Greta Thunberg generation are to have any hope I am again going to use my statement “We have no option but the unthinkable. By every means possible we have get enough public demand to force quicker change by insisting institutions develop policies to address problems in a holistic context.”


We know most of the organized structures of our modern world can be represented as silo’s, inhabited by true believers (Eric Hoffer author), and authoritarian demagogues.  Do you believe that Holistic Management training will become widely acceptable at upper levels of organizations or will occur because of collapsing regional agricultural ecosystems at the level of farming being our next crises?

I don’t know. All we do know, from good research and history, is that when counter-intuitive or paradigm-shifting change is involved, it is impossible for democratic leaders or any organization (institution) to lead. No change is possible until public opinion shifts and demands that change. And this holds no matter how serious, no matter how many million lives are lost or what the economic cost. Institutions, including elected leaders of such, take on a life of their own as complex systems. Institutions reflect the prevailing beliefs of society and lead the way with such thinking. However, when truly new knowledge emerges (which has happened very few times in history – Coppernicus, Galilleo, Semmelwiess are examples) institutions lead the ridicule and rejection until public opinion shifts. I cannot find any case in history of any institution accepting paradigm-shifting change ahead of its public.

Addressing the cause of all that ails us involves two paradigm-shifting concepts – known and developed by thousands of people over sixty years, including thousands employed in institutions but acting independently of their institutions – the Holistic Management framework has been blocked from rapidly gaining public awareness by the world’s institutions that became aware of it – environmental and agricultural organizations, universities, governments and international agencies. Only time will tell if programs such as this interview, social networking and the efforts of many people mainly engaged in developing regenerative agriculture will prevail over institutional aggression and inertia.

How is the lack of validation affecting positive change in local communities to holistic principles?

Firstly, there is really only one holistic principle. Intuitively known by all earlier people who in most cultures recognized humanity’s inseparable tie to our habitat. And the principle was brought into Western thought in 1926 by Jan Smuts who wrote Holism and Evolution. That principle is that nature works in wholes and patterns – not as mechanistic world-view and science believed. Knowing all they did, including Native Americans thinking seven generations ahead before taking any action, did not help them. Wherever humans were we still damaged our environment and least so in regions of perennial humidity. This was brought about by two things. First human decision making has always been to meet our needs, desires or to address problems basically. Reducing the unavoidable web of social, cultural, environmental and economic complexity to such things as the reason or context for management and policy is “reductionist” in a holistic world. What we finally discovered in 1984 after decades of work, was how to address the cause of past and present failures – by going to where the rubber hits the road.

That point is where actual decisions are made in any policy or management practice. Here, two points become important for the survival of civilization. One- all management and policy needs to be in a holistic context. Second -it is simply not possible, as tool-using animals, for humans to prevent or address global desertification and thus climate change using the only tools institutional scientists who advise world leaders accept or recognize. Those tools available to institutional scientists (and world leaders can only act through institutions) are technology in its many forms, fire, or conservation (resting our environment to recover). Three tools. That is why in a 2013 TED Talk I said “we have no option, but the unthinkable, and that is to use livestock as a tool to address global desertification.”

So, yes, none of this can come about until we have a better-informed public insisting that our governments and large environmental organizations in particular develop policies in a holistic context. It cannot be done until there is public insistence is what we learn from both research and history. So this we need to focus on.

After so many years of educating farmers has a training model emerged that can be web based and integrated into real time data collection to establish the validity of rethinking management in agriculture?

We do have a great deal of training material from simple self-help to more sophisticated coaching and mentoring in collaborating groups of people and organizations that are beginning to change. That can and will keep growing. However, that is the normal process of incremental change against institutional blocking and according to research we can expect to take about 200 years. Just to get the Royal Navy to accept lime juice would end scurvy cost over a million sailors lives and took 200 years – and nothing has changed in institutions since.

If the Greta Thunberg generation are to have any hope I am again going to use my statement “We have no option but the unthinkable. By every means possible we have get enough public demand to force quicker change by insisting institutions develop policies to address problems in a holistic context.”

The downside of public demand for this is Zero – there is absolutely no risk whatsoever and the only blockage is professional and institutional egos. Over now sixty years of development there has never yet been any financial vested interest oppose or ridicule the idea of managing or developing policy holistically. The upside is that we might just address global human habitat destruction in time to save civilization as we know it.


One of your key observations that attracted me years ago to your work was the “herd effect” and grasslands regeneration. Has that observation become an empirically established fact at this time?

When I consider this question, I ponder whether it is an empirically established fact that water flows downhill? Science is fundamentally a process of observation, interpretation, deduction and experimentation to gain knowledge of nature. That enabled us thousands of years ago to accept water flows downhill and later the theory of gravity, and experimentation there gave explanation as to why water flows downhill.

By this “scientific” process over thousands of years before academic scientists people developed all the domestic varieties of plants and animals making civilization possible. Since the recent dominance in management by academic scientists we are losing species, losing languages, losing cultures and accelerating human habitat destruction.



It was a simple observation by me over twenty years of tracking people and animals that where people, or animals, crowded in one another’s body space or were hungry, lost or wounded the effect on the soil and vegetation was different – more soil surface disruption, more course plants trampled more dead plant material laid horizontally on the soil ( slowing water flow, slowing rate of application of water from rainfall to the soil surface, increasing water penetration,..) more seedlings, closer plant spacing holding litter – all of this dramatically affecting the ease or otherwise of tracking. How much easier tracking was where fewer herds, more fire, more bare soil, more erosion and so on. And it was simply observation that any large herbivores (buffalo, bison, elk or whatever) when not apprehensive and defensive against pack-hunting predators spread, walked gently, did not tramp on course plants, did not lay much litter, etc. etc. And from there we simply recognized if we are to use animals as tools we have to do so largely through behaviour and their feet not mouths, and not mere presence. I have frankly not wasted my time worrying about empirically proving any of this that can be observed at any time – just like water flowing downhill. That academics sitting in offices relying entirely on peer-reviewed publications have a problem with this I have no doubt. Thank goodness the pioneers like Leopold, Smuts, Bennet, Howard and others engaged in science mostly in the field as did my own mentors.

Where you aware of the fact that research based on NASA satellite sequential space photos of the Great Plains area in the United State, a major bread basket of the world, is showing a significant destabilization of grass cover? Desertification is a major issue isn’t it.

I was not aware, but am not surprised. The desertification of the United States is terrible and is a major contributor to climate change as well as the increasing droughts, floods, poverty, collapse of the Western Culture (which will eventually be kept alive only by rodeo athletes and cowboy poets). I have always been saddened by the extreme opposition to my work from cattlemen’s organizations and environmental organizations in the US. But again, people are not being bad and are not to be blamed – that is what institutions do -ridicule and oppose any truly new insights.

Could you explain what sustainability means in a holistically managed paradigm, and what that would look like in greening the planet?

Let me try. First I must say it will not be Holistic Management because that is not agriculture but is purely a way to manage complexity in anyone’s life or business. It will be a new agriculture (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and wildlife management) that regenerates the world’s living soils and biodiversity on the land and in our waters including oceans. Regenerating societies, cultures, towns and economies based, as they need to be, on the photosynthetic process – not paper wealth or wealth based on extractive industry. This new agriculture will be made up largely of many of the practices we see today in organic, sustainable, permaculture, pastoralism, wildlife, fisheries and forestry management. It will include some new practices (like the Holistic Planned Grazing process or holistic policy development) to reverse desertification that only became known and possible with the development of the Holistic Management framework. The practices that will “float to the top” as it were will be those that are socially, environmentally and economically sound both short and long-term all determined by policy developed in a holistic context reflecting what all humans want. Regenerative agriculture is what it will be. Management and policy developed in a global holistic context is how it will come about.

How can farmers best usher in a post industrial ecologically balanced food system?

They can do their best to learn how to manage holistically ensuring those practices that improve their own immediate environment, society and economy as many are doing today. However, this will not succeed because, as the corona pandemic has highlighted, we are a global community. Most of our population lives in cities and the economic and political power has shifted to cities totally disengaged from ecological literacy and ability to connect the dots. Corporate, shareholder, political game playing, celebrity desire for popular appeal, institutional and professional egos will persist in supporting veganism, vilifying meat, investing in manufactured meat, factory production of animals, university/corporate led crop production based on chemistry and marketing of technology (not on biological science) and of course planting billions of trees. All of which is leading to climate change and none of which addresses the cause. And the UN will continue to promote its 17 Sustainable Development Goals that almost all address the symptoms of desertification and not the cause and so are doomed once more to failure.

With such facts the best we can strive for is to use social media to educate the public in cities as well as rural environments to the fact that agriculture has to be regenerative and can really only be brought about in time by demanding policies be developed in a global holistic context – soaring above politics, stock markets, national power aspirations – to what all humans want and need for civilization to survive.

In addressing a world audience what would you say is the most important take away from your many years of astute observations of regeneration of natural systems?

My view is coloured by my years of struggle to first understand, and then find solutions to why humans so consistently destroyed their own environment or habitat. A struggle that led to me from being a government research officer to being an independent scientist, a farmer, rancher, game rancher, international consultant, soldier, member of parliament, president of a political party, exile while throughout collaborating with thousands of concerned individuals in all walks of life. From that broad perspective enjoyed by few if any scientists the two most important thoughts I would love to convey would be:

That we have to work at scale through governments and that all forms of governance -communism, socialism, capitalism, dictatorships, populism – have failed us. Our best hope lies in democracies but only when democracies ban all political parties that make it impossible for democracy to function. In this view I was preceded by George Washington (with some parallels in our lives) some 200 years ago.

Secondly governments need to form all policies in a national holistic context to ensure that all people feel well governed and secure, without which no one is.

If these come about I can see the human spirit fly as never before. If we continue supporting political parties and reductionist management and policy the future will be grim beyond imagination and the greatest suffering will be in cities.


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Listen to the Science: The Impacts of Climate on the Health of People and Planet



UN draft climate report: Impacts on people

A draft report from the UN’s climate science advisory panel offers the most exhaustive look yet at how our warming planet will impact humankind’s health, wealth and well-being.

AFP had exclusive access to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft, set to be published next year.

Here are some of its findings on impacts on people:

Food and water

The report shows how  has already decreased major crop production globally and is predicted to impact yields throughout the , putting greater pressure on countries with a growing number of mouths to feed.

– Between 2015-2019, an estimated 166 million people, primarily in Africa and Central America, required humanitarian assistance due to climate-related food emergencies

– Rising CO2 levels will also degrade the quality of crops, reducing vital minerals and nutrients in key foodstuffs

– Despite greater levels of socioeconomic development, nearly 10 million more children will go undernourished and stunted by 2050—exposing them to a lifetime of associated 

– Catch potential of marine fisheries—on which millions of people rely as their main protein source—is projected to fall 40 to 70 percent for tropical regions of Africa if emissions continue unabated

– Halving red meat consumption and doubling intake of nuts, fruits and vegetables could reduce food-related emissions as much as 70 percent by mid-century and save 11 million lives by 2030

Climate change: the impact on people
Highlights of a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report on the effects of a warming planet on people.

Extreme weather

Rising temperatures will reduce people’s physical ability to work, with much of South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Central and South America losing up to 250 working days a year by 2100.

– An additional 1.7 billion people will be exposed to severe heat and an additional 420 million people subjected to extreme heatwaves if the planet warms by two degrees Celsius compared to 1.5 degrees—the range laid out in the Paris Agreement

– By 2080, hundreds of millions of city dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia could face more than 30 days of deadly heat each year

– Flooding on average will likely displace 2.7 million people annually in Africa. Without emissions cuts, more than 85 million people could be forced to leave their homes in sub-Saharan Africa due to climate induced impacts by 2050

– A plus 1.5-degrees-Celsius world would see two or three times more people affected by floods in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, four times more in Ecuador and Uruguay, and a five-fold jump in Peru

– Some 170 million people are expected to be hit by extreme drought this century if warming reaches three degrees Celsius

– The number of people in Europe at high risk of mortality will triple with three degrees Celsius warming compared to 1.5 degrees of warming

  • Risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes
    Chart showing the risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes, according to a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report.
  • Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely
    Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely.
  • Risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes
    Chart showing the risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes, according to a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report.
  • Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely
    Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely.

Disease and other impacts

As rising temperatures expand the habitat of mosquitoes, by 2050 half the world’s population is predicted to be at risk of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever and Zika virus.

– Without significant reductions in carbon pollution, an additional 2.25 billion people could be put at risk of dengue fever across Asia, Europe and Africa

– The number of people forced from their homes in Asia is projected to increase six-fold between 2020 and 2050

– By mid-century, between 31 and 143 million could be internally displaced due to , agricultural stresses, and  in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America


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