Tucson needs to stop making plans for growth and start making plans to survive

Among all the creatures on the planet, humans are unique both in their tendency to be unconscious of surrounding conditions having taken a serious turn for the worse, and their tendency to venture into uncharted terrain with nary a thought as to what may be lurking there.

Sure, even the most mentally challenged, crotch-scratching rednecks understand the threat of a looming tornado, and most possess the minimal survival instinct directing them away from the funnel rather than toward it. But when changes to the ho-hum of daily life are more gradual and less immediately dramatic, people are inclined to behave much as they always have in the belief that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow. Big mistake.

With the American penchant for the newest whatever cloaked in the shimmer of celebrity entertainment, climate change seems like yesterday's news. OK, we get it, we think. We don't quite believe it (and besides, it won't affect us), but we'll grudgingly recycle and make sure our next SUV is a hybrid.

But we don't get it, and we don't get it, big-time.

While the Bush administration spent the last eight years enabling climate-change deniers by drowning the media in endless gushers of propaganda favoring Big Oil, other organizations including the Pentagon, the U.S. Army War College, the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) were commissioning their own studies--studies remaining behind the scenes, minimally reported and largely missing from mainstream newspapers.

Five years ago, Peter Schwartz--who is described by environmental reporter Amanda Griscom as a former head of planning for Shell Oil and a sometime CIA consultant--and Doug Randall of the Global Business Network, a California think tank, prepared a report for the Pentagon commissioned by the Department of Defense detailing the impact of climate change on national security.

Arguably the worst climate prediction is one involving an abrupt change, rather than a gradual one, a scenario seen as possible by an increasing number of climatologists. Among the many disturbing conclusions in the Schwartz/Randall report is the admonition, "We should prepare for the inevitable effects of abrupt climate change--which will likely come regardless of human activity."

Millions of refugees will abandon uninhabitable parts of the planet, and drought, famine and increased severity of weather events will become commonplace, as will wars over resources. While the introduction notes the report's scenarios are extreme, it also calls them plausible.

Four years after the DOD's report, several prestigious institutions under the aegis of the Army War College and the Triangle Institute conducted a colloquium on "Global Climate Change: National Security Implications." On the last day of the conference, the Hudson Institute's Dr. Richard Weitz summed up the conferees' areas of agreement: "The climate is changing, and the visual and anecdotal evidence is palpable; there is good analytical support for this. ... Solutions to positively identified problem areas must be pursued through interagency and international action. ... There are no single-point solutions."

Then, in November 2007, the CSIS published "The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change," a report overlooked on Entertainment Tonight. The authors include heavy hitters such as senior scientists, security analysts, professors, a former presidential chief of staff and a former CIA director. Not one rabid environmentalist in the bunch.

At the conclusion of its more than 100-page report, the group lists a daunting set of challenges facing the nation, from reversing our decline in global standing to dealing with pathogens. But there's more: "Our group found that, left unaddressed, climate change may come to represent as great or a greater foreign policy and national security challenge than any problem from this list. And, almost certainly, overarching global climate change will complicate many of these other issues."

As if all this weren't bad enough, James Lovelock, the crusty scientist responsible for the Gaia hypothesis and who has been issuing dire environmental warnings for decades, recently told The Guardian that extreme weather would be the norm by 2020. That's in 12 years. By 2040, London will be underwater and much of Europe a desert, he says.

What gives us pause when considering these seemingly outlandish forecasts is Lovelock's consistent record of accuracy in predicting future events.

Across an ocean and a continent, a city in the Southwestern desert of the United States hangs on to the fantasy of business as usual. Perhaps nothing is more indicative of collective denial than conferences purporting to "plan for future growth," when what we really need is a plan for Tucson's survival.