Somewhere in some dark corner of the universe, diehard contrarians are still convinced that climate change ranks right up there with Benjamin Franklin’s “electric kite” as one of the greatest scientific hoaxes of all time, but you won’t find any of those characters lurking in the halls of the Pentagon. The Department of Defense has just come out with the latest iteration of its climate adaptation strategy, and it doesn’t mince any words.
For those of you new to the topic, we’re saying latest iteration because DoD has been all over climate change like white on rice since the beginning of the Obama Administration. The newly released DoD Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap actually updates an earlier 2012 version but it adds more detail, and more urgency.
The Climate Adaptation Roadmap
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, former Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, and Army Assistant Secretary for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack have been among the more eloquent and aggressive taxpayer-supported (group hug!) advocates for climate action, retired military professionals have also been front and center on climate action, and now you can add Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the list.
Speaking in Peru on Monday at the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas, Secretary Hagel announced the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap with nuggets like this:
The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline and trigger waves of mass migration.
We must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change, and we must be pro-active in addressing them.
About Those Climate “Skeptics”
Whoever wrote the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap also seems to have caught the creativity bug. Here’s the part that explains why the last lingering remnants of climate denial and obfuscation are irrelevant, referencing a military thinker with deep roots in Enlightenment thought:
While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action. Every day, our military deals with global uncertainty. Our planners know that, as military strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight.” It is in this context that DoD is releasing a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.
That would be the wildly influential Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831), who according to our friends over at Clausewitz.com was known for describing how military strategy necessarily rests on a shaky platform:
…Clausewitz’s approach is profoundly realistic in that it describes the complex and uncertain manner in which real-world events unfold, taking into account both the frailties of human nature and the complexity of the physical and psychological world.
DoD isn’t the only Clausewitz fan to advocate for action on climate change adaptation. Just last week, sustainability officials from Houston, one of the epicenters of the global petroleum market, had a sitdown with federal climate experts to get climate change adaptation into gear for the Houston Ship Channel.
Adapting Readiness To Climate Change
As for the details, the Roadmap is getting plenty of attention for its review of rising sea level impacts on military installations, and for its depiction of climate change as a threat multiplier, so let’s go ahead and pick apart something else that caught our interest.
That would be the impact of climate change on military readiness. We’ve touched on readiness previously in the context of continued dependency on fossil fuels, as price spikes and uncertainty in the global fossil fuel market cut into training budgets.
The Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap adds a whole new dimension. Here’s a rundown of the main impacts that planners are anticipating given the scenario of a 1.5-foot sea level rise over the next 20 to 50 years:
• Increased number of ‘black flag’ (suspended outdoor training) or fire hazard days.
• Decreased training/testing land carrying capacity to support current testing and training rotation types or levels. Some training/testing lands may lose their carrying capacity altogether.
• Increased dust generation during training activities, which may interfere with sensitive equipment, resulting in greater repairs, or may require more extensive dust control measures to meet environmental compliance requirements.
• Stressed threatened and endangered species and related ecosystems, on and adjacent to DoD installations, resulting in increased endangered species and land management requirements.
• Increased operational health surveillance and health and safety risks to the Department’s personnel.
• Increased maintenance/repair requirements for training/testing lands and associated infrastructure and equipment (e.g., training roads, targets)
Shorter version: hey taxpayers, look what’s coming down the road unless we start getting serious about transitioning out of fossil fuels and into more sustainable energy forms.
So Now What?
Speaking of fossil fuel dependency, in case you’re wondering why the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap doesn’t have much to say about reducing the military’s considerable carbon footprint, that’s because the topic of this particular paper is adaptation.
Carbon reduction goes into another category altogether, which we regularly cover here so we’re not going to clutter up the tubes with a bunch of links except to note that in the most recent development, the Army has transitioned its utility-scale renewable energy pipeline from a temporary task force into the permanent Office of Energy Initiatives.