Since January 2017, 18 senior officials at the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) have raised concerns about, and recommended actions to address, the security implications of climate change, both due to its effect on military infrastructure, readiness and operations, and its broader geostrategic implications for the United States.
This includes Secretary of Defense, James Mattis; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva; Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer; Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph Lengyel; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment (IE&E), Lucian L. Niemeyer; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, R.D. James; Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations, Energy, and the Environment, Phyllis L. Bayer; Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Energy, John Henderson; Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Glenn Walters; Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran; Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Stephen Wilson; Army Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville; AFRICOM Commander General Thomas D. Waldhauser; Air Force Director of Civil Engineers, Major General Timothy Green; NORTHCOM/ NORAD Commander, General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy; Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, Alex Beehler; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, General Robert McMahon. The DoD also produced a survey report on the matter in January 2018.
Below is a chronological list of written and verbal statements by these defense officials, as well as links to DoD reports and other government documents covering the climate-military nexus, that have been released during this Administration thus far. Each entry includes a link to its source, which includes more information and context.
August 21, 2018
Senator Reed: I mentioned before that the GAO has done a study that has indicated that the Department of Defense spent over $1 billion dollars simply in military construction recovery from hurricanes and other climate effects. Do you agree with Secretary Mattis’ views that climate effects have an impact not only on the institutional forces, but also national security – droughts in Somalia. Start with Mr. Mc Mahon.
Robert H. McMahon: Senator, our military has faced weather extremes throughout its history, and the adverse impact of that we saw last year. But we’ve seen it as a military officer in the Southeast a number of times. Each year we prepared for the hurricanes that would come through. So, yes I agree with Secretary Mattis that weather can and does have an adverse effect on our ability to accomplish our mission. Risk mitigation is the preparation to ensure that we are ready for that. And if confirmed, I will continue to ensure that we are as ready as possible.
Alex Beehler: Absolutely. Echoing what General McMahon just said, and if confirmed, from my position I will do everything to encourage installations and help direct installations to properly prepare on a case by case basis for both adverse weather and effects long-term from climate. I understand that there is a report obligation coming out of the NDAA that was just passed that requires each of the services to do an assessment and a master plan impact. And if confirmed I will ensure that that effort of assessment and master plan impact is complete, comprehensive and delivered on time.
April 19, 2018
“Asked what triggered the decision to revise the 2014 document now, Richardson said “the Arctic triggered it” – and Spencer added, “the damn thing melted.”
“The Arctic ice caps are as small as they’ve been in my lifetime,” Richardson said.
“And that gives rise to strategic changes. Waterways that are open. The secretary mentioned the blue-water Arctic. Continental shelves that are exposed, and the resources on those shelves. So there are strategic issues that arise from that shrinking of the icecap. And then there’s this National Defense Strategy that’s changed our focus as well. So it’s really, from a number of perspectives, about time to do that again.”
April 17, 2018
Nominee for Commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD, General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy
Senator, it [the impact of climate change] absolutely does [create strategic challenges]. And certainly the Arctic, for example, just as you mention, the Northern Sea Route as an example, we see increased use and activity in the Arctic. I think from the NORTHCOM perspective and the NORAD perspective as well, if confirmed, I would certainly make the Arctic a priority. Because as we look to the future, look at the strategic competition we’re in, look at Russia and China, and their activities there, that is clearly something that we need to also be focused on.
April 12, 2018
Air Force Director of Civil Engineers, Major General Timothy Green
For Langley Air Force Base (AFB) which is in that same region, we’ve already raised the elevations of our new construction. We’ve already moved mechanical rooms and things like that from basements to higher elevations. So part of it’s just – as you said – prudent planning and I think that’s being done, both on the Navy side but certainly on the Air Force side. We are already altering how we do the engineering work to protect our facilities and our missions.
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment), Hon. Lucian Niemeyer
That’s the key step here. Right now, we’re taking a look at what needs to be done… what has been done. We’ve always responded to flood conditions. It’s part of what we’ve done as military engineers while we look at preserving our military capabilities across the country. We’ll continue to do that in the Hampton Roads area, in Virginia Beach. Where we can make good decisions about how high we raise a dry dock or how high we raise a dam. Those are all engineering decisions that we make every day. And we’ll continue to make those as we see conditions change around the country…
…So we are looking at adjustments to what our engineering forecasts are and to what degree we can start planning now. And just making prudent engineering decisions across the board. To be able to make our facilities resilient to whatever may happen. It could be a lot of things that ultimately could affect environmental conditions and affect our facilities. The goal is resiliency across the board.
March 13, 2018
AFRICOM Commander, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, USMC (Ret)
Senator, some of the numbers you stated are certainly overwhelming. And when it comes to the African continent, unfortunately those numbers are sometimes the order of the day. Last year, for example, in Somalia there were over 6 million people who were food insecure. This year it’s going to be around 5 million people. And that’s just in that region.
I would say from the climate perspective, is that we have seen the Sahel – the grasslands of the Sahel – recede and become desert almost a mile per year in the last decade or so. This has a significant impact on the herders who have to fight, if you will, for grasslands and water holes and the like.
So these environmental challenges put pressure on these different organizations — some are VEO [violent extremist organizations], some are criminal, but it puts pressure on these organizations just for their own livelihood.
So, consequently, in areas like northern Mali, ISIS West Africa and the northern part of Niger, these are areas that are a very concern to us. And this is why we’re trying to work so closely with those countries there, so that they can maintain security, that they can keep it, at a minimum, keep these challenges inside those particular boundaries. But there are some significant challenges, and the numbers sometimes in Africa can overwhelm you.
February 14, 2018
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Stephen Wilson:
“This last year was a great example. So we were fighting [forest] fires in California and using our C-130s to help fight those. We did the floods here, the hurricanes both in Texas as well as Florida, and as the ones came up the East Coast affecting bases like Langley. So everything we look at in terms of infrastructure we have to look at through the lens of ‘how would I build and design infrastructure that would support changes in climate.’ I think that and energy resiliency across our bases to be able to – as the Army just talked about – partner with local communities because our bases are our power projection platforms. So we got to make sure they are energy resilient.”
Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran:
“I attended a briefing by the Naval Academy here recently and they were looking out 30 years at the flood plains and the sea wall associated with the Chesapeake Bay and the Severn River. It was a pretty stark demonstration of what could happen if we don’t take some action in the next 30 years to address that rise in water level. As you know, General Walters and I, we share bases, pretty much waterfront property all over the world, so if the oceans are going to rise we’re going to be impacted everywhere. So, it does demand kind of a comprehensive look at all of our bases, especially in those areas that you already cited, in Hampton Roads, Florida, on the West Coast in San Diego, etc, so we are going to look at that very hard in the next several years.”
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Glenn Walters:
“Yes, Sir, we are a waterfront organization also. We have come to the conclusion that we’re not going to turn the tide, but we are looking at it closely. I’ve taken, in this job that I’m in right now, I’ve taken two briefs in the last eight months on what I consider our most critical vulnerability, and that’s Parris Island, South Carolina. Our logistics folks at I&L, our Deputy Commandant for I&L has done extensive work and studies, and projected out what’s the best case, what’s the worst case, and obviously there’s a big variance in there. But what I do know is that we’ll eventually have to bolster that. I’ve come to the conclusion in my own mind that it’s not today – we don’t have to build a sea wall today. But we have to consider one, and we’re monitoring it every day as we watch that. Because you remember that started out as a marsh and a little bit of an island. So marshes turn into seawater, and land turns into marsh.”
Army Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville:
“We look at some of the hazards that have happened over the last couple of…I mean, the hurricane. We had three major hurricanes. We have installations, camp post installations really in all those type [of] areas. So they certainly affect us. We got fires in certain parts of the country – that certainly affects where our post is. The flooding is certainly there. We are building some resilience. You know, an example right now – we are building, in partnership, at Schofield Barracks, a power plant in conjunction with the local area so, it’ll be used – we don’t necessarily need it – but if there’s a situation where the power goes out, we’ll have that capability, resilience. It’s a public-private partnership which I think is a good way to get after, and they seem very excited about that partnership that’s going on there…(Sen. Kaine interjection: ‘Excellent, so that’s a shared investment that’s being done by both DoD and the local community?) Gen McConville: It’s actually the community that’s actually paying for it, but we’re allowing them to use the land, and then if something happens where we lose power, we have first dibs on the power. And it’s on the grid right now, but if something happens serious, then we have the opportunity to use it.”
January 30, 2018
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations, Energy, and the Environment, Phyllis L. Bayer
“Yes, if confirmed, I will ensure the Department identifies those bases most at-risk [from climate change] and develops the measures necessary to mitigate those risks.”
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Energy, John Henderson
“Yes, I agree with Secretary Mattis’ assessment that a changing climate can impact our installations. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Air Force continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”
January 26, 2018
The Department of Defense releases a personnel survey report showing climate change-related risks to 50% of military infrastructure.
December 12, 2017
The President signs into law the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes in “SEC. 335. REPORT ON EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON DEPARTMENT
OF DEFENSE” a recognition that climate change presents a direct threat to national security, and requests a report from the DoD on how climate change affects its overall mission – including the top ten most climate-vulnerable military sites.
November 9, 2017
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, R.D. James
“As an engineer and after years as a member of the Mississippi River Commission, working with multiple Civil Works water resource projects designed to perform under extreme climatic conditions, I believe it is critical that we look at hydrologic data, analyze hydrologic trends, and understand what is happening on the ground at Army Civil Works projects. That kind of understanding is crucial to assuring those projects continue to perform as designed and that they are sufficiently resilient to face whatever future climatic events may occur…Because most Army Civil Works projects are specifically designed to safely perform and reduce risk under the extremes of the hydrologic cycle, from extreme floods to prolonged drought and everywhere in between, I believe we owe it to the communities, industries and economic sectors that depend on Civil Works systems to assure those systems are sufficiently resilient in order to dependably perform regardless of what future climatic conditions are presented.”
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues its report “Climate Change Adaptation: DoD Needs to Better Incorporate Adaptation into Planning and Collaboration at Overseas Installations.”
September 19, 2017
Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph Lengyel
“I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe…I do think that storms are becoming bigger, larger, more violent. You know, I never know if this one speck of time is an anomaly or not, but, you know, we’ve all seen now three Category 5 storms that popped out in a period of a month.”
“It impacts me because the National Guard does provide — we are the military domestic response force. We keep that as part of our job jar…For us to do that job, we have to have some force structure that’s located were the events might happen. So whether that’s in Oklahoma, where you have a lot of tornadoes, or whether that’s in the northwest, where you have a lot of fires, or whether that’s in the Gulf or along the East Coast, we need force structure that is in all 50 states, the territories and the District of Columbia, so that we can respond…It doesn’t work for me to put all of our forces on one base in any particular state.”
July 18, 2017
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva
“The dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict. And I’ll just provide one example of how that can happen and this is a man-made problem. The dams along the Nile River control the flow of water into what was the Fertile Crescent of Egypt, and any change to that water flow causes the Egyptians to become more hostile to their neighbors who are putting dams upstream of the Egyptian stretch of the Nile River. I could build that argument in a variety of countries around the world, and those are man-made problems not directly related to climate change but related to how we as humans change our environment. If you extend that argument to the kinds of things that might happen if we see tidal rises, if we see increasing weather patterns of drought and flood and forest fires and other natural events that happen inside of our environment, then we’re gonna have to be prepared for what that means in terms of the potential for instability in regions of the country where those impacts happen. Particularly today where there’s massive food instability. The Sahel in Africa is a classic example, where a small drought over a limited period of time can decimate the crops and cause instability and make that an area fertile for recruitment of extremists because they see no other way. Similarly you could look at the decimation of the fisheries off Somalia that contributed to piracy because the fishermen couldn’t make their livelihood by doing what they do best, which is fishing on the fishing grounds off of Somalia. So I think we need to be prepared for those. It will cause us to have to address questions like humanitarian disaster relief. It will also cause us to have to focus on places where climate instability might cause actual political instability in regions of the world we hadn’t previously had to pay attention to…”
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment (IE&E), Lucian L. Niemeyer
“Yes, the climate plays a pivotal role in DoD’s ability to execute our missions. The
Department has always considered risks from climate related effects such as high winds, precipitation, extreme temperatures and drought to mission readiness and execution. As Secretary Mattis has stated “the Department should be prepared to mitigate any consequences of a changing climate, including ensuring that our shipyards and installations will continue to function as required.”
“I agree that the Department must be prepared for extreme weather, but in the long run DoD must plan now to ensure it can meet future mission requirements to remain a ready and resilient fighting force. If confirmed, I will work with the Military Departments to ensure our facilities and installation plans appropriately consider the impact of a changing climate.”
“If confirmed, I will ensure that the comprehensive threat assessment and
implementation master plan [on the risks and vulnerabilities to Department missions and infrastructure associated with climate-related events] is submitted to Congress in a timely manner.”
“Secretary Mattis has passed on the desire to want to make sure that we’re incorporating what’s going on around the world with climate change into our operational plans, and I fully plan to support that, and to what extend we can prepare domestically as well for what’s happening with the climate and the environment.”
July 11, 2017
Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer
Q: Mr. Spencer, do you believe the climate is changing and that climate change will continue to affect the Navy’s installations and missions?
Spencer: “Senator, the Navy, from my briefings to date, is totally aware of the rising water issue, storm issues, et cetera. We must protect our infrastructure, and I will work hard to make sure we are keeping an eye on that because without the infrastructure, we lose readiness.”
Q: So I take that as a yes?
Spencer: “Yes, all about readiness.”
Q: And, if confirmed, under your leadership will the Navy prepare for climate change? I think this is where you are going about readiness. And I want to say that both in terms of repairing our own bases and installations and preparing for the crisis and the insecurity that climate change will exacerbate around the world.
Spencer: “Yes, Senator.”
March 14, 2017
Secretary of Defense, James Mattis
“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
“Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”
“As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”
“I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”