Stanford scholars and other experts met in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5 to discuss how consequences of climate change such as water shortages, food insecurity and, with rising temperatures, the demand for electricity in developing nations affect U.S. national security (read event program, speaker bios and innovation briefs).

Convened by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, the event was the first in a series focused on national security. Future discussions will address issues such as natural resources and conservation, climate adaptation and energy research and development for a low-carbon future. A few highlights from the recent event:

"I foresee climate-driven versions of the Arab Spring."

- Keynote speaker Admiral Gary Roughead, U.S. Navy (Retired), Robert and Marion Oster Distinguished Military Fellow, Hoover Institution. Roughead discussed the implications of climate-related disasters from a military perspective. Focusing on glacial melt in the Himalayas, the source of the greatest rivers in Asia, Roughead warned the reduction in water and flow may create unrest downstream where a rising middle-class in countries such as India and China is increasing demand for water and energy.

“Do you think water is the new oil in the 21st century?”

- David Welna, National Security Correspondent, National Public Radio. Welna challenged panelists to explain water’s relationship with national security.

“Researchers have shown that Syria’s severe drought from 2006 through 2009 helped contribute to the 2011 civil uprising.”

- Panelist Barton “Buzz” Thompson, Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law and Former Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. In an innovation brief related to the event, Thompson highlighted studies that analyzed the effects of climate, groundwater depletion and resource competition and the security concerns they create in different countries around the world.

“It’s not uncommon at all to see governments toppled over spikes in food prices in developing countries.”

- Panelist Rosamond Naylor, William Wrigley Professor of Earth Science and Director of the Stanford Center on Food Security and the Environment. Naylor reminded the audience that the Arab Spring originally began in Tunisia with riots over rising food prices and then spiraled from there. She discussed the complexity of the issue of food security and whether it should remain a humanitarian matter in the Department of State or move under the Department of Defense.

“The United States should serve in a leadership role to decarbonize our energy system, and enable access to energy worldwide.”

- Panelist Arun Majumdar, Precourt Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Co-Director of the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy. In an innovation brief related to the event, Majumdar discussed how access to affordable energy is critical to advancement, and that economic stagnation in the developing world can contribute to security challenges for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Majumdar stressed a move to a global clean energy economy as critical to confronting climate and security concerns.

“A proactive, rather than a reactive approach to security, water, energy and food decreases our costs, increases our efficiency and makes us safer.”

- Chris Field, Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies; Perry L. McCarty Director, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Professor, School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Senior Fellow, Precourt Institute for Energy. Field closed the panel session by emphasizing there are tremendous advantages to using science to plan national security strategies.