23 december 2019

U.S. Military Precariously Unprepared for Climate Threats, War College & Retired Brass Warn

National security and service members' lives are at stake, and working under a president who rejects science and ignores climate risks isn’t helping.

By David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News
Dec 23, 2019

A string of climate-related disasters that crippled the strategic capability of multiple U.S military bases in recent years has exposed the military's vulnerability to extreme weather, putting a spotlight on its failure to prepare and the consequences to national security.

Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, was incapacitated by historic flooding that swept through the Midwest in March. More than 130 structures were destroyed, and the cost of rebuilding has hit $1 billion and could go higher.

Hurricane Michael, a monster Category 5 storm, wiped out Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in 2018, damaging 17 grounded F-22 stealth fighters and causing an estimated $5 billion in damage. Heat illnesses in the military are also rising, putting service members' lives at risk, a 2019 investigation by InsideClimate News and NBC News showed.

Yet the Defense Department, now facing a presidential administration that rejects science and ignores climate risks, has been slow to respond, and that's raising concerns across the military and from Congress's watchdog agency and military think tanks. In a series of reports this year, they questioned the military's readiness, offering foreboding conclusions that climate change poses significant threats to national security, military preparedness and personnel safety—threats they say the military is not fully equipped to handle.
2019 Year in Review

"The Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges," a U.S. Army War College study bluntly concluded.

The projections are also worrisome for U.S. military operations overseas, where armed forces face extreme weather, sea level rise and the risk that diminishing water supplies, changing disease patterns or crop failures could destabilize a country, the Government Accountability Office wrote in a recent report to Congress.

The reports stress the need for massive military infrastructure safeguards. They also highlight concerns that some sectors of the Department of Defense remain resistant to climate change projections; have failed to take steps to mitigate its effects; and are unprepared for the consequences.

"It seems apparent from those of us on the outside that the level of preparedness doesn't match the level of risk," said Alice Hill, a National Security Council advisor during the Obama administration who specializes in global risks.

The military had a clear picture a decade ago of the threats posed by climate change, she said.

"It's not like we've been caught unawares," said Hill. "It's not to say no efforts are underway, but are they enough? There is concern they are not sufficient given how quickly climate is changing."

The undercurrent in these reports suggests the Pentagon and Congress are reacting to climate change without comprehensive preparation at a time that demands broader strategies be incorporated into climate planning.

The reports are especially striking given the Trump administration's record of climate science denial and its disregard of the consequences of environmental policy rollbacks. The War College report said the government was "perceived to be an irresponsible actor in the global environment," citing President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord as an example.

Senior military leaders have testified to Congress that the Defense Department recognizes the risks from climate change. Still, adaptation is slow in coming, said John Conger, director of the Center for Climate and Security and a former assistant secretary of defense for Energy, Installations and Environment.

"The DOD is a large organization," he said. "You can't change its direction quickly."

That turn becomes even more sluggish given the anti-climate posture taken by the Trump administration.

"There is a reticence to take on the White House overtly," he said. "(Military) leaders won't omit climate change in their planning calculations. They will move slowly and systematically in the right direction."


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