The Military Battles Climate Change

While Republicans are mobilizing to push back against President Obama’s carbon initiatives, those in military sector are sounding the alarm about climate change—and the slew of issues that it has the potential to precipitate.

In case you missed the report issued in May by the CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board, which is comprised of sixteen retired Generals and Admirals from all branches of the services, the findings are grim. The research is a follow up to a 2007 report. Seven years later, the new title is “The Accelerating Risks of Climate Change.” Underscored are the “severe risks for national security,” which the team found “very sobering.”

With a nod to the fact that the conversation has reached a partisan and polarized level, the Board maintained that this tangible “national security concern” cannot afford to get bogged down by politics or budget wrangling.

The picture they have painted has the makings of a summer disaster movie. Elements include extreme weather events exacerbating pre-existing problems such as poverty and social inequity. Water, food, and energy insecurities are magnified. Political instability is exploited by non-states and terrorist organizations. Floods and droughts lead to population dislocation—with refugees migrating from one area to another. Estimates put forth that by 2030 the global middle class will have increased their demand for food by 35 percent, and their need for energy by 50 percent.

It all might sound hyperbolic, except for the fact that there are currently droughts projected for parts of Australia, inland China, and India. Flooding from monsoons is predicted to impact the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. Rising sea levels are threatening urban metropolises that are cited on coastlines—such as Tokyo, Beijing, Mumbai, and Moscow. That means Los Angeles and New York City are in line for problems as well.

Highlighted was the Arctic region and the effect of ongoing melting of ice, which will change the ratio of ice coverage. As nations start to jockey for control of the area, it is essential that the United States sign on to the United Nations Convention on the “Law of the Sea” (UNCLOS) that has been endorsed by the U.S. Navy. In 2012, Republicans pushed back on top military brass testifying to request for ratification. I contacted expert Caitlyn Antrim, who teaches “Law of the Sea.” She explained that in 2012, six four-star admirals and generals heading major regional and functional commands endorsed U.S. accession to the Convention. She wrote via e-mail, “Opponents were successful in rounding up a small group of flag and general officers based on their own private (and, to my mind, flawed and somewhat paranoid) description of the Convention.” Antrim described those “few officers” as aberrations. She pointed out that American failure to ratify the Convention and Implementing Agreement essentially leaves America on the sidelines of any “major negotiation over the marine environment and ocean conservation, such as ocean acidification and dumping of waste into the sea.”

Nationally, there are plenty of concerns in store. Our country’s infrastructure is in for major challenges as a result of extreme weather, rising sea levels, and flooding. The Pentagon is taking the correlation between climate change and the national security extremely seriously. Coastal Navy installations are at risk, especially Norfolk, Virginia, home to the “world’s largest naval base.”

Military readiness is diminished when troops are diverted to humanitarian concerns brought on by the ravages of nature. Emergency Responders often require the assistance of the federal government.

The top takeaways from “The Accelerating Risks of Climate Change” findings were simple and straightforward:

  • Have the United States take a leadership role on climate change.
  • Work in tandem with other countries to avert threats in localities that appear to be nascent ground for conflicts.
  • Look ahead toward strategies on how to prepare for water-food-energy concerns.
  • Get the Department of Defense on board with contingency plans to assure military facilities are operational for climate change impact.

One of the authors of the report, Ret. Adm. David Titley, Professor of Practice in Meteorology and the Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University, has been spreading the word to drive the point home. His belief about the connection between national security vulnerabilities and climate change led him him to co-write an opinion column for Fox News.

Titley’s “aha” moment came in 2010, when he asked a member of the Inuit Eskimo tribe if they had any written or oral history about the their homeland waters reaching the warmth of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The answer was, “No.”

True to form, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee (as the ranking Republican) and the Environment and Public Works Committee reacted to the information stating, “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer.”

I reached out to Titley for his reaction, wondering how this agenda will ever move forward if lawmakers refuse to acknowledge the science. He replied:

“I would only say that it’s unfortunate the issue of our changing climate and its impacts to national security has become politicized. As military officers we know that our country’s warfighting advantage depends in part on our ability to recognize, adapt to, and get ahead of changes in the world situation. We would plan for and adapt to changes in the physical battlespace just like we would changes in demographic, economic or political situations.

The ocean, atmosphere and ice do not caucus, do not vote, and do not care about anyone’s politics. They just warm, cool and melt according to the well-known laws of physics. This is a national security, not a political issue.”

One can only wonder what it will take to get the nation’s elected representatives moving…to sidestep catastrophe.

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force

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1 Response

  1. Andrew DeWit says:

    Dear Ms Yerman,

    Thank you for writing on the military and climate change. As you know, the military’s work predates the Obama Administration. And the recent acceleration of the military’s efforts to make the bases and other facilities resilient through various infrastructures are perhaps the most striking evidence of the speed and scale of climate change as well as best options on mitigation and adaptation. Unlike even governments over here in Japan, the US military does not rely on the outdated and compromised IPCC work. Rather, the military agencies (like SERDP and ESTCP) are at the core of an impressive scientific initiative that includes NASA, NREL, and others. I’m not an American, and certainly not a fan of the US military, but find their activism instructive and inspiring. As an academic who teaches the political economy of public finance, I also believe the military’s initiatives on innovating cost-benefit analyses to attain, and maintain, resilience in the face of accelerating climate change are likely to be useful to local, regional and national governments.

    Andrew DeWit
    Rikkyo University

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