Well, this is confusing: If Thomas Fingar's bleak speech in Orlando yesterday was any indication, none of the U.S. intelligence agencies seem to understand that "lipstick on a pig" is the most pressing issue facing the country. Instead, their forthcoming Global Trends 2025 report just prattles on about how the United States and institutions like the U.N. and World Bank are going to lose their dominant position at the very moment that environmental crises are making global cooperation all the more urgent:

The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change "could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Fingar said, while the United States will face "Dust Bowl" conditions in the parched Southwest. He said U.S. intelligence agencies accepted the consensual scientific view of global warming, including the conclusion that it is too late to avert significant disruption over the next two decades. The conclusions are in line with an intelligence assessment produced this summer that characterized global warming as a serious security threat for the coming decades.

Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world. But among industrialized states, declining birthrates will create new economic stresses as populations become grayer. In China, Japan and Europe, the ratio of working adults to seniors "begins to approach one to three," he said. … Energy security will also become a major issue as India, China and other countries join the United States in seeking oil, gas and other sources for electricity.

Fingar also pointed out that U.S. military superiority will be its "least significant" asset in this new world, since "nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force." So what's the most significant? I'd say the ability to lead the way on alternative forms of energy—if we chose to do so, which we haven't so far—sounds like a good contender.

--Bradford Plumer