Deadly Denial

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Written By: Jim Greenberg

Noted author and British naval historian C. Northcote Parkinson (1909-1993) once said that  “delay is the deadliest form of denial.” After a stellar military and academic career, which included teaching at the Royal Naval College and penning nearly sixty books, Parkinson was certainly a man with a great depth of knowledge of strategic military planning and tactics. Today’s U.S. military is indeed fortunate to be replete with men and women who possess such knowledge and the skills to apply it to prudent planning for our national security.

Information is Power

One prime example is Rear Admiral David W. Titley, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance.  The last two words in the Admiral’s title…Information Dominance… capture a fundamental truth accepted by all rational people: namely, that information is power. And it goes without saying that having accurate and reliable information is the most powerful type. Conversely, putting one’s head in the proverbial sand, by refusing to actively seek and act upon credible information, leads to the deadly denial and delay of which Parkinson spoke. Admiral Titley is clearly a man who has never put his head in the sand. To the contrary, he is an esteemed naval officer who has devoted his entire career to obtaining accurate information, upon which the U.S. military can base sound decisions for future planning.

Qualified and Credible

Titley served more than 10 years at sea, including a tour as navigator aboard USS Farragut, and a tour as oceanographer aboard USS Belleau Wood.  His education includes a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from the Pennsylvania State University, a Master of Science degree in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography and a Doctorate in Meteorology, both from the Naval Postgraduate School. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar XXI on Foreign Politics, International Relations and National Interest, and is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society.  With these credentials, the Navy made an outstanding choice in 2009, when Titley was appointed as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, as well as Director of the Task Force Climate Change.

Compelling Evidence

The Admiral says of himself, “ I used to be a climate change skeptic.” But as a man committed to accumulating accurate information as part of his critical mission, Titley continued to seek the best and most recent scientific evidence. In other words, he compiled a data bank of reliable observations of various climate change measurements taken around the world. And what he found was compelling. According to Admiral Titley, there are at least six objective evidentiary categories that lead to the inescapable conclusion that our climate is changing. That undeniable evidence is: global air temperature readings, global water temperature readings, the heat in the deep ocean, the retreat of the glaciers, the thinning of ice in the Arctic, and the ice sheets coming off Greenland and West Antarctica.

National Security is Human Security

Titley realizes that climate change science has regrettably taken on political overtones for some. His response: “ I want none of that.” The Admiral is not concerned about politics. He is concerned solely with facts and what their implications are for our national security and U.S. military planning. Admiral Titley emphasizes that climate change is here now and that it poses two key security issues. First, Titley says that “National security is human security…(which means) people having enough fresh water and food.” And Titley is perfectly accurate when he adds that scarcity of potable water and food “increases the potential for instability.” Other prestigious organizations dedicated to security, such as the Truman National Security Project, concur with the Navy’s assessment that global fresh water shortages pose a substantial security threat.  Second, the Admiral warns us that “with the arctic ocean changing, in the next few decades, that will open up new shipping lanes,” which have major strategic implications for our military. As Titley bluntly puts it from a military perspective, “The world’s geography and battle spaces are changing.”

Delay is Dangerous

This last observation brings us back to C. Northcote Parkinson’s admonition about denial of the facts and the deadly delay that may accompany such willful ignorance. Current skeptics of climate change science and the mass of supporting scientific evidence will sometimes say that we should delay taking affirmative action until the body of evidence brings us to certainty. Admiral Titley categorically rejects this view as foolish and even down-right dangerous: “ We will never have absolute certainty…(and) it would be irresponsible of us to wait for absolute certainty to plan for our future.” To drive the point home, Titley adds that, from a military defense perspective, “ If you wait for absolute certainty, you are probably dead.” And if Parkinson were alive today, he would most certainly agree with the Admiral that denying the present facts makes it difficult or impossible to be ready for the future.

On this point, Titley takes current climate change science and boils it down to one practical reality: “ It’s all about readiness when we (the U.S. military) are asked to do a mission…and if we have not accounted for climate change, then we are not ready.” Surely, we can all take a lesson from the United States Navy on this point and delay no further in our readiness.