Report lays out military's challenges with climate change

Scientists and engineers used a collection of instruments aboard a NASA C-130 research aircraft to quantify ice elevation, incoming sunlight, outgoing infrared radiation and various cloud properties to better understand climate impact on Arctic sea ice and glaciers from August to October 2014.


By CHRIS CARROLL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 13, 2014

WASHINGTON — Future military operations might take place in the choking dust of expanding deserts, amid conflicts intensified by a rising sea, or in currently inaccessible Arctic waters, according to a new plan designed to help the Department of Defense navigate the perils of climate change.

DOD’s White House-ordered “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap,” which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel introduced Monday at a conference of Western Hemisphere defense ministers in Peru, lays out process for the military to identify and deal with new, climate-based risks to national security.

Beyond DOD, discussions about climate change have taken on global urgency as low-lying nations from Western Europe to the Indian Ocean contemplate the loss of land to rising seas, while coastal cities worldwide face the prospect of increasing flooding. Elsewhere, fears of conflict over water resources, potential food shortages and the potential spread tropical disease ranges are breeding worries.

All of it carries national security implications.

“Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation, and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” the plan says.

Not everyone agrees. The topic that in recent years has raised the hackles of conservatives in Congress, some of whom regard global warming as a hoax, and object to the price tag of DOD efforts to develop new, non-petroleum-based fuels. A byproduct of overall energy efficiency efforts, DOD officials say, will be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

In May 2012, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s support of a Navy biofuels program, saying Panetta “doesn’t need to waste his time trying to perpetrate President Obama’s global warming fantasies or his ongoing war on affordable energy.”

The new plan, however, doesn’t touch on ways to reduce DOD’s own emissions footprint. It instead considers factors such as rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather, which climate scientists say are likely as global temperatures rise, and how they’ll affect national security.

Drawing on the work of climate scientists and oceanographers, various scientific bodies have estimated global sea levels would rise between several inches and several feet over the 21st century. A U.N. climate panel said the increase could be even faster if warming causes the collapse of ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland. Global temperatures have increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, with the increase accelerating in recent decades, the U.N. panel said.

Major sea level rises would affect the operation of coastal installations and increase the chances of flooding elsewhere DOD operates.

Some of the potential new risks are international, including an increased number of disasters and greater need for relief operations. Climate change could also exacerbate instability overseas, the plan says.

“Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict,” Hagel said last fall at an international security forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees, and resources, more severe natural disasters — all place additional burdens on economies, societies, and institutions around the world.”

The document also identified potential affects that need study. A heating atmosphere could increase the need for air-conditioning of buildings, could disrupt water supplies at base and increase the need for maintenance of roads and runways, the plan said. Weapons could deteriorate faster in a changed environment, requiring more maintenance or quicker replacement, and shipments of materiel could be delayed.

Additionally, climate change could increase the number of “black flag” days at military bases when outdoor training is suspended because of fire hazard.

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

An F/A-18 from the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron is fueled with a 50-50 blend of biofuel and jet fuel. Experimenting with biofuels is part of the military's push to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.