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The Air Force’s Weather Squad: Keeping an Eye on Accelerating Climate Change

Southwest Asia CellNBC News wrote an interesting article recently about the Air Force Weather Agency’s “14th Weather Squadron,” based in Asheville, North Carolina (and according to the article, “the Pentagon’s oldest office of climatology…”). The squadron commander Lt. Col. Glenn Kerr describes the 14th as providing “cutting edge climatology for the war-fighter.”

A key takeaway from the article is how seriously the Air Force and the rest of the Department of Defense is taking climate change, which should surprise no one, but is not discussed enough. As the squadron’s lead scientist, Ray Kiess, notes “Is climate change accelerating? Absolutely…The extremes in this era are significantly being changed year in, year out.”

Kiess also describes the focus on the issue by the U.S. military, as the effects of climate change grow closer, noting: “We’ve been having lunch table conversations about it for years…The only difference now is there’s a focus on it.” The article highlights an interesting measure of how concerned the Pentagon is about climate change: the number of people with military emails (ones that have “.mil” domains) accessing federal climate data. According to the 14th squadron’s former commander: “In January of 2012…the largest set of federal climate data got 155,000 hits from “.mil” domains. By this past January, the number of hits had nearly doubled, to 293,000.”

But perhaps most importantly, the article highlights the fact that climate change has entered into the strategic thinking of the Pentagon (and the intelligence community), escaping the limited box of environmental and infrastructure security, and entering into higher-order concerns about unrest in strategically-significant parts of the world (such as those we highlight in “The Arab Spring and Climate Change.”)  From the article:

“When I came on there was a lag with regard to the climate,” said Hausman, the head of support services at the National Climatic Data Center, which is located in the same building in Asheville. “There was skepticism. What does the science really tell us? How much can we really bring climate change info into the strategic thinking?”

Now a lot of that skepticism has burned off, Maj. Harris added, citing more intense interest from members of the intelligence community and leaders in Washington. “They want to know, what’s going to be the next drought area of the world? They want to know about the potential for climate-related unrest,” he said. “There’s a higher interest in all that for sure.”

In short, climate change is being viewed as a strategic security risk by the U.S. military and intelligence communities, as the growing importance of entities like the 14th Weather Squadron (and other institutions, like the US Navy Task Force Climate Change) makes clear. That should be sufficient impetus for policy-makers to advance robust policies for addressing the risk – or to quote the old risk management aphorism: “avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable.”


1 Comment

  1. Vlad Fomin says:

    I loved the old aphorism: «… the old risk management aphorism:” avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable. ” Indeed – very wise. Especially when trying to study the causes of climate change. Of course, the hole in the Earth’s past pushes both the dubious “facts”, and the real evidence took place tens of thousands of years ago, cataclysms. However, collection and aggregation of Paleoclimatology information allows you to select the causes of climatic disasters and even identify ways to effectively counter. Thus, you can be on your way to “managing the unavoidable.” Thank you.

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