Climate change is now posing a threat to the nation’s security system. The climate change vulnerabilities at 79 key military facilities identified in a new Pentagon report submitted to Congress on Thursday by a new Department of Defense. It includes significant risks from wildfires, flooding, drought, and increasingly severe weather. Because of this looming threat, the Defense Department is taking protective measures on military bases.
“The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations,” the report says, and the department needs to adapt its operations accepting this new reality.
However, according to the Democrats in Congress, the report lacks the detail they were expecting and highlighted the failure of Trump administration to take the climate change issue seriously as a threat to national security.
Congress asked the report in an amendment to a defense authorization bill. It passed with bipartisan support while Trump administration was stripping climate change as a concern of national security outlook.
The report mentioned different kinds of risks military facilities are facing with outlines of some of the responsive work of the department. The report repeatedly stressed on the ways the national security is under threat of climate change emphasizing infrastructure and training operations to contribute to instability in world’s fragile regions facing extreme weather and the need for humanitarian assistance missions also increased.
However, the report does not provide the list of the 10 most vulnerable facilities in each armed services branch requested by the Congress. The list of top 10 would be able to help the military and Congress to identify the area to focus limited funds and thus avoiding costly damage in the future.
There is no mention of multi-billion dollar disasters from Hurricanes Michael and Florence in the report that tore up hangars and buildings across Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in the month of October 2018 and also the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina last year. The estimated damage was $5 billion due to these hurricanes.
Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat who proposed the amendment of the report said: “There were not a lot of ambiguities in what we required, and what the report produced didn’t come close at all.”
Climate Impact: From Sea Level Rise to Wildfires
The report assesses “mission assurance priority installations” that is the effects of “climate-related events” like wildfires, flooding, drought, thawing permafrost, and desertification at 79 facilities. Flood is the most common problem in both coastal and inland areas already affecting 53 of the facilities and seven more expected to become vulnerable in the next 20 years.
Since 1930, there is 14 inches rise of the sea level in Joint Base Langley-Eustis in the vulnerable Hampton Roads area of Virginia, causing frequent and more severe flooding as per the report. Also due to rising seas, flash floods during tropical storms, and storm surge flooding, the access is becoming limited in Navy Base Coronado, in California.
According to the report the drought is listed as a risk factor for currently 43 of the installations and five more will be on the list in the next 20 years. Moreover, this can impair operations by worsening heat-related illnesses and increase the risk of wildfires called “a constant concern on many military installations.”
In March 2018, during training in Colorado, a wildfire broke out destroying three homes, and another forced the evacuation of personnel in November 2017 on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The report pointed out that Army training ranges in Fort Greely, Alaska, located on top of permafrost that’s at risk of thawing that can destabilize the ground.
How the Military Is Responding?
The Pentagon is addressing the climate risks. The report pointed out the initiatives taken like conservation programs, revised building codes, and modeling of sea-level rise to make facilities more resilient.
At Joint Base Langley-Eustis, all new structures elevated minimum 10.5 feet above sea level. A tool has been created to visualize the movement of floods through the facility and install door jambs for the prevention of flooding.
A technology also developed to protect a runway in Greenland at risk of being undermined by thawing permafrost, and that is using buried foam insulation.
As per the report, Central Command factors, climate conditions into its campaign planning and Northern and Indo-Pacific Commands regularly provide training for extreme weather and natural disasters. The regional commands with responsibilities for South America collecting localized data on vulnerabilities and for Africa report say “planners must consider the impacts of drought and desertification as high potential instability areas and how these two hazards impact bases and missions.”
However, Democrats in Congress may ask the Pentagon to issue a new report.
“The Department of Defense presented no specifics on what is required to ensure operational viability and mission resiliency, and failed to estimate the future costs associated with ensuring these installations remain viable,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“That information was required by law. The Department of Defense must develop concrete, executable plans to address the national security threats presented by climate change. As drafted, this report fails to do that,” Smith added.