President Biden has announced appointments to his Intelligence Advisory Board. In a White House press release issued on January 26th, 2023, it was noted that Dr. Kim Cobb, Director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and an environmental sciences professor had been appointed to the Board. What is that board and why is a climate scientist on it?
According to the White House press release, “The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board is an independent element within the Executive Office of the President…. exists exclusively to assist the President by providing the President with an independent source of advice on the effectiveness with which the Intelligence Community is meeting the nation’s intelligence needs and the vigor and insight with which the community plans for the future.” The Board can have up to 16 members appointed.
Candidly, I was thrilled to see my colleague Professor Cobb in the “number” when the announcement was made. She has been a leading researcher, scholar, and voice within the climate community for years. Her primary expertise centers around using observations (present and past) of climate variables to assess climate change and its impacts on society. Her work on El Nino, coastal flooding, and other climate extremes are published in the peer-reviewed literature, and she has an admirable gift for conveying the complex subjects to policymakers or broader audiences. She doesn’t just Tweet or write opinion pieces about the climate science, she does the science. And oh by the way, she has served as a Lead Auther on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too.
This appointment is a “no-brainer” given Professor Cobb’s impressive scientific record and commitment to the nation. However, I know many people might be asking why she was appointed to this particular board. To answer that question, let’s consider a recent major intelligence report. In 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the report, “Climate Change and International Responses Increasing Challenges to U.S. National Security Through 2040.” Right out of the gate, the report features a matrix highlighting levels of risk associated with geopolitical tensions over climate responses, climate exacerbated geopolitical flashpoint, and climate effects impacting country-level security. In 2011 I co-authored a National Academies report identifying climate change threats to U.S. Naval operations and national security so the ODNI report strongly resonated with me.
The White House has stressed that it plans to prioritize climate within the context of foreign policy and national security. In a 2021 fact sheet, it stated, “The climate crisis is reshaping our physical world, with the Earth’s climate changing faster than at any point in modern history and extreme weather events becoming more frequent and severe….The scientific community is clear: human activities have directly contributed to climate change.” The release went on to say, “We are already experiencing the devastating impacts that climate has wreaked on almost every aspect of our lives, from food and water insecurity to infrastructure and public health, this crisis is exacerbating inequalities that intersect with gender, race, ethnicity, and economic security.”
This is exactly why Dr. Cobb is needed on that Board.