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169 [There is] a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered looks strange; what looks strange is therefore improbable; what seems improbable need not be considered seriously. —Thomas C. Schelling, foreword, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962) Year after year the worriers and fretters would come to me with awful predictions of the outbreak of war. I denied it each time. I was only wrong twice. —Senior British intelligence official, retiring in 1950 after forty-seven years of service, quoted in Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security The first two scenarios in this exercise dealt generally with climate change, the role of greenhouse gas emissions therein, and the regional consequences of smaller but substantial changes—up to a temperature rise of 2.6°C (4.7°F) and sea level rise of approximately half a meter (1.6 feet) in a thirty-year period. The third scenario discussed catastrophic change where aggregate global temperature increased by 5.6°C (10.1°F) by the end of the century, accompanied by a dramatic rise in global sea levels of 2 meters (6.6 feet) in the same time period. We might call climate change a “malignant ,” as distinct from a “malevolent,” problem—a problem of the sort seven A Partnership Deal: Malevolent and Malignant Threats R. JAMES WOOLSEY 11100-07_CH07.qxd 5/8/08 12:44 PM Page 169 170 R. JAMES WOOLSEY Einstein once characterized as sophisticated (raffiniert) but, being derived from nature, not driven by an evil-intentioned (boshaft) adversary. Sophisticated malignant problems can still be awesomely challenging. For example, because complex systems can magnify even minor disturbances in unpredictable ways—the so-called butterfly effect—a tree branch touching some power lines in Ohio during a storm can produce a grid collapse. In 2003 such a tree branch–power line connection deprived the northeastern United States and eastern Canada of electricity for some days. Similarly, our purchases today of gas-guzzling SUVs can contribute to sinking portions of Bangladesh and Florida beneath the waves some decades hence. With respect to climate change three factors should lead a prudent individual to consider such catastrophic change plausible: first, the possibility that some positive feedback loops could radically accelerate climate change well beyond what the climate models currently predict; second, the prospect of accelerated emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the near future due to substantial economic and population growth, particularly in developing countries such as China; and third, the interactive effects between these two phenomena and our increasingly integrated and fragile just-in-time—but certainly not justin -case—globalized economy. Exponential Change and Scenario Planning The possibility of catastrophic exponential change necessitates a unique approach. This is because few human beings naturally think in terms of the possibility of the exponential changes. We humans generally have what the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil calls an “intuitive linear” view of phenomena rather than a “historical exponential” view. In The Singularity Is Near, he uses the example of a property owner with a pond who frequently cleans out small numbers of lily pads. Then, with the pads covering only 1 percent of the pond, the owner goes away, but he returns weeks later to find it covered with lily pads and the fish dead.1 The owner, because the human mind thinks linearly, forgot that lily pads reproduce exponentially. When change is exponential we often have great difficulty comprehending it, whether it is manifested in lily pad growth or climatological tipping points. A related difficulty is that the adaptability of human society itself is difficult to predict in the presence of great and continuing catastrophe. The conflicts over land, migrating populations, or resources described elsewhere in this study might well be overshadowed in such a case by broader societal collapse. 11100-07_CH07.qxd 5/8/08 12:44 PM Page 170 Malevolent and Malignant Threats 171 Massively Destructive Terrorism Another growing threat also holds out the possibility of massive damage and loss of life in this century: religiously rooted terrorism. The scope of death and destruction sought by the perpetrators of this sort of terrorism is also something most people find difficult to envision. This chapter later discusses terrorism (a“malevolent”rather than a“malignant”problem such as climate change) because of a somewhat surprising confluence: the aspects of our energy systems that help create the risk of climate change also create vulnerabilities that terrorists...


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