America faces two serious national security threats that look wildly different but have one core feature in common — they both have a low probability of happening, but, if they did happen, they could have devastating consequences for our whole world.
One of these threats is North Korea. If Kim Jong Un is able to launch missiles that strike the U.S. mainland, the effect will be incalculable.
And even though the odds are low — it would be an act of suicide by the North Korean dynasty — President Donald Trump is ready to spend billions on anti-missile systems, warships, cyberdefenses, air power and war games to defuse and deter this threat.
And if we prepare for an attack and it never happens, we will be left with some improved weaponry that we might be able to use in other theaters — but nothing particularly productive for our economy or job creation.
The other low-probability, high-impact threat is climate change. The truth is, if you simply trace the steady increase in costly extreme weather events — wildfires, floods, droughts and climate-related human migrations — the odds of human-driven global warming having a devastating effect on our planet are not low-probability but high-probability.
But let’s assume for a minute that because climate change is a complex process — which we do not fully understand — climate change is a low-probability, high-impact event just like a North Korean nuclear strike. What is the Trump team doing when confronted with this similar threat?
It’s taking a spike and poking out its own eyes. In possibly the most intellectually corrupt declaration of the Trump era — a high bar — Scott Pruitt, a longtime shill for oil and gas companies now masquerading as the head of the EPA, actually declared that even discussing possible links between human-driven climate disruptions and the recent monster storms was “insensitive.” He said that after our country got hit by two Atlantic Category 4 hurricanes in the same year for the first time since records have been kept — storms made more destructive by rising ocean levels and warmer ocean waters.
Makes me wonder … if Pruitt were afflicted with cancer, would he not want scientists discussing with him, let alone researching, the possible causes and solutions? Wouldn’t want to upset him.
What if we were to prepare for disruptive climate change and it doesn’t get as bad as feared? Where will we be? Well, we will have cleaner air, less childhood asthma, more innovative building materials and designs, and cleaner, more efficient power generation and transportation systems — all of which will be huge export industries and create tens of thousands of good jobs.
Trump has recently fired various knuckle-headed aides whose behavior was causing him short-term embarrassment. The person he needs to fire is Scott Pruitt. Pruitt is going to cause Trump long-term embarrassment. They are authoring a new national security doctrine — one that says when faced with a low-probability, high-impact event like North Korea, the U.S. should spend any amount of money, and if the threat doesn’t materialize, well, we’ll have a lot of Army surplus and scrap metal.
But when faced with an actual high-probability, high-impact threat called climate change, we should do nothing and poke our eyes out, even though if the effect is less severe — and we prepare for it anyway — we will be left healthier, stronger, more productive, more resilient and more respected around the world.
That is the Pruitt-Trump Doctrine — soon to be known as “Trump’s Folly.”