Foreign Policy Heavyweights Discuss Climate Change’s Effects On Arab Spring

Former State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman engaged in an hour and a half discussion with CAP moderator Michael Werz on Thursday, heralding the release of a new series of essays related to the link between climate change and insecurity titled “The Arab Spring and Climate Change.”

A product of CAP, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Climate and Security, the report collects five essays that show how what were once local issues have become global, showing for example how a drought in China led to increased food prices in Egypt. In the preface to the report, Slaughter borrowed the concept of a “stressor” — a “sudden change in circumstances or environment” that interacts with various other factors that leads to sudden change — from criminal science to show how climate change acts to “ignite a volatile mix of underlying causes to erupt into revolution.” Those stressors include the way weather patterns effect the migration of peoples and shifting climates’ contribution to food insecurity, which serve as a multiplier of other factors blocking sustainable security.

Speaking before a packed house at CAP, Friedman implored the audience to think of the Middle East not by the current national borders, but instead envisioning as overlaid maps of culture and climate to understand the region. Slaughter took the concept a step further, adding in maps of political networks — government, corporate, NGOs, and others — and seeing where the larger “nodes” in those networks exist. Tracing where those nodes intersect, Slaughter said, shows where policy can be made.

Climate change overlaps with both a decentralization of foreign policy making and an increase in the technology that may be able to fix it, according to Slaughter and Friedman. Decision-making is spreading away from solely being governments interacting with each other and into a more dispersed framework, Slaughter said, citing the reporting of air quality by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, which is then picked up by Chinese nationals. Referring to the interconnected networks that the Internet facilitates, Slaughter said she wants to “see the world like the Millennials see it.”

As the population of people in the world having the same standard of living as the United States increases, Friedman said, so too will the dangers associated with climate change. Modern technology is showing the ability to help fight that, Friedman said. He provided the example of how the combination of a new ID law, advancing IT infrastructure, and emerging energy technology can allow villagers in India to refrain from moving into larger cities, lowering carbon emissions in the process.

Speaking to ThinkProgress after the event, Slaughter advised those seeking to help prevent further climate change, and the insecurity it brings, to “consider where they are in the network they’re trying to influence.” Global cities and states topped the list of those networks whose combined influence would be able to affect change on the global stage. “Then think, ‘Where am I placed?’ and my point is, you want to be in or be able to influence the central node,” Slaughter continued. That might mean cooperation between individual actors or linking between networks, through reaching out to corporations or local governments.

Watch the full event HERE.