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Military Times: Pentagon still preparing for climate change


BEAUMONT, Texas (Sept. 3, 2017) U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Navy Sailors load water for delivery to victims of Hurricane Harvey, Sept. 3, 2017.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.,/Released)

There’s a great article in the Military Times today by Tara Copp detailing the degree to which the U.S. military continues to prepare for a changing climate, and the attendant impacts on its mission. In the piece, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr Patrick Evans states:

“As Secretary Mattis has said, the department evaluates all potential threats that impact mission readiness, personnel health and installation resilience, then uses that information to assess impacts and identify responses,” Evans said. “The effect of a changing climate is one of a variety of threats and risks, but it’s not a mission of the Department of Defense.”

Though this approach by the Department of Defense is not surprising, given the military’s long history of attention to the issue stretching back to 2003, and the unequivocal statements on the subject from at least four senior Pentagon leaders in the current Administration (Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva; Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, Lucian Niemeyer) the article provides an important look into the very real and practical risks climate change and related weather events pose to military infrastructure and operations. This is especially in focus for the Department of Defense in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which have had a significant impact on the military in a number of ways, both in terms of its role in the relief effort, and the exposure of its infrastructure and assets. From the article:

On the military’s role in the relief effort:

By Sept. 11 [2017], more than 17,000 military personnel and several Navy vessels were positioned to assist with relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and continental United States after Hurricane Irma tore through the region and left about a third of Florida residents without power.

And as of Sept. 6, approximately 20,000 personnel ― including about 3,000 U.S. military and 16,000 members of the Texas National Guard ― were involved in relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall Aug. 25 and dumped nearly 50 inches of rain on southeast Texas.

On the hurricanes’ impact on military assets:

The military also moved critical aircraft and ships out of the way of Irma’s projected path.

At Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, for example, the Air Force sent 50 F-16 fighter jets away to better protect them, base spokeswoman Lt. Alannah Staver said. Shaw’s hangars have withstood previous storms, including Category 5 Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Staver said. Hugo buffeted Shaw’s hangars with 109 mph winds and the hangars held on, she said.

But the Air Force wanted to disperse its fighters to avoid the risk that storm damage could make the airfield inoperable.

Close call 

When Harvey made landfall last month, it hit just north of two critical Navy flight training bases on the Texas coast.

Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, which is located on the bay, spent the day before landfall trying to take some preliminary measures to protect their offices from what was anticipated to be a direct hit and 12-foot water surge. They put computers high on desks and cleared out any debris from base drains to help water clear faster.

Then Harvey turned upward at the last minute, and NAS Corpus Christi only had minimal damage.

But the base is now putting together lessons learned to see what parts of the installation should be strengthened for the next hurricane.

In short, the U.S. military does not have the luxury of picking and choosing which risks to prepare for, and which to ignore. For the Department of Defense, that under-girds an overall responsibility to prepare for a changing climate. It’s not a political stance, it’s common sense.


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