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Retired admiral says climate-change research may mean 'our survival'

Rear Adm. (Ret.) Jonathan White, the former head of oceanography and meteorology for the Navy.

U.S. NAVY

By ALEX KUFFNER | The Providence Journal, R.I. | Published: October 17, 2018

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — The former head of oceanography and meteorology for the Navy argued for more funding for research to understand the impact of climate change while delivering the keynote speech at a science symposium at the University of Rhode Island on Tuesday.

"It's not just science at stake. It's our survival," Rear Adm. (Ret.) Jonathan White said to hundreds of people at the event at the Graduate School of Oceanography campus in Narragansett.

White is president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for ocean research, education and policy. His name was mentioned last year in connection with the top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but President Donald Trump instead nominated Accuweather CEO Barry Myers.

Standing in front of images of the destruction wrought last week by Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and flooding around Naval Station Norfolk, Va., he said that climate change is a threat to coastal military installations and, in a larger sense, to national security overall.

"Our military, the more and more they have to deal with infrastructure and the effects of climate change, whether it's helping others or trying to get in and out of our bases, the less ready they are going to be to go on missions ... all over the world," he said.

It was a point that was also raised by U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin, who has pushed for an assessment of the military's vulnerabilities to climate change.

"The dangers to national security are real and we must support the researchers who improve our understanding of the threat and ways to mitigate it," he said.

The symposium's focus was not just on security issues but on the effects of sea-level rise, more powerful storms and increased rainfall on coastal communities in general.

The event came the week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the impacts of climate change are now expected to be more dire than previously thought. The report predicts major droughts, coastal flooding and other effects by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate.

"We only have 10 to 20 years to solve this now," said John King, a professor of geological oceanography at URI. "And transformational change is what we need."

White described potential impacts on drinking water, food supplies and ocean health caused by increased runoff and by harmful algae blooms. The key to understanding them all is science, but the projections and models need to be improved to reduce uncertainty and spur action, he argued.

"We have to keep investing in it because the answers and uncertainty are not where they need to be," he said. "The investments in ocean science are critical."

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