Climate change is a national security risk, Pentagon says

A military police officer walks near a destroyed door at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael on October 12, 2018. The Pentagon says climate change is a national security issue. // AFP via Getty Images, Brendan Smialowski

Updated October 26, 2021, 6:09 PM ET

The Department of Defense says climate change is already threatening US national security in concrete ways.

In a report released last week, the Pentagon found that “increasing temperatures, changing precipitation, and more frequent, intense and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are exacerbating existing risks” for states. United.

For example, recent extreme weather conditions have cost billions of dollars in damage to US military installations, including Tyndall Air Base and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. In addition, the military has bases in Guam and the Marshall Islands which are vulnerable to rising sea levels. And China might be able to take advantage of American susceptibility, according to the Pentagon.

Assistant Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told NPR Congress should be on the lookout as the Biden administration tries to put in place a clean energy plan that Senator Joe Manchin will support. The West Virginia Democrat thwarted an earlier effort.

“We have to have the rest of the government with us. We can’t do it right here at DOD,” she said. Morning edition.

Interview highlights have been edited for clarity.

Interview highlights

On examples of how climate change is affecting the US military

Climate change is really increasing the number and frequency of the missions we do here at DOD. Let’s look at the firefighting. Severe drought has resulted in increased fire seasons, longer fire seasons. It was at the point where our National Guard bureau chief started talking about the fire season turning into a fire year. And in fact, over the past five years we’ve gone from about 14,000 person-days for members of the US National Guard to, in 2021, about 176,000 person-days devoted solely to firefighting.

We can also think of the increasing openness of the Arctic region. China and Russia and many countries are now up there in the Arctic and creating a new geopolitical space that did not exist before – a space of competition in an area that we have to make sure we monitor. Both for search and rescue – just for the simple commercial fleets that pass through where we protect the freedom of the seas. This increases the mission space for us.

On the challenges of climate migration

Climate migration absolutely affects the United States directly. … At our southern border through the countries of the Northern Triangle [of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras] where farmers cannot cultivate, their traditional approaches to securing their livelihood are seriously questioned. We’ve also seen this happen, of course, from Africa to Europe, in other parts of the world.

If you shift your focus to a place like the Pacific region where the challenge is not so much drought, it is sea level rise. There are Pacific island nations that are in existential crisis. , and they can go underwater. Think of Bangladesh, think of parts of India, Indonesia, highly populated countries where this scale of climate migration potential is significant.

How military installations and the military are affected

We are absolutely looking at the implications of climate change on our facilities. I will stress that drought is also an important factor in and around our military installations in the west; sea ​​level rise affects us mainly on the east coast and overseas.

So yes, the effect is this: can we even operate where we have invested to operate? What kinds of mitigation measures do we need to put in place to deal with these factors? Frequent fire, loss of power due to frequent storms as we saw in the deep freeze in Texas. It is very expensive and it takes us away. These forces which are located in these places, they do not focus on the mission. They don’t fly during their training days, maybe, or they’re not at sea or preparing to go to sea. Rather, they come in and out for storm purposes. These are all ways that we are both reduced in our ability to accomplish our primary mission, and it costs us money to fix.

On what the military is doing to prepare

If there’s one thing that we do exceptionally well here at DOD, it’s that we plan and do it very thoroughly, and the climate has to be part of how we think about the future and the future. different eventualities to which we could be called. … We will reflect on how we train and equip our force in a climate [change] environment. We will ensure that our installation infrastructure is built in a resilient manner. We’re going to make sure that we have resilient supply chains, that we are innovative, that we exploit areas like green technology here in the United States and that we collaborate with the private sector, with partners abroad and other government agencies in our research and development and the way forward.

Milton Guevara and Kelley Dickens produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produces for the web.

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