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Meet the Press: Climate Change, National Security and the Military


Rough seas pound Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Arctic, U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua A. Moore

On December 30, NBC’s Meet the Press, hosted by Chuck Todd, devoted its entire Sunday program to the climate crisis. While the full segment is worth a watch, an exchange on the national security and defense implications of climate change with Michèle Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (the 7th-ranking Pentagon official), and Craig Fugate, former Director of FEMA, proved especially interesting. Their responses are consistent with the views of military leaders across both Republican and Democratic Administrations, as well as those of the Center for Climate and Security, including its Climate Security Consensus Project. Below are excerpts from the exchange.



All right, so if dollars and cents won’t do it, what about national security, Michèle Flournoy?


Well, it’s interesting. Because I think there is a very strong consensus, in the U.S. military and in the national security community, that climate change is real. This is a sort of pragmatic, clear-eyed view. And for the military, they see this as leading to a change in their mission, more humanitarian assistance, disaster-relief missions abroad and at home. They see the melting of the ice cap in the Arctic, that’s going to open up an area of strategic competition with both Russia and China.


Just pause. I mean, I don’t want to gloss over that. So here we are, worried about what the melting ice caps are going to do to our life. Meanwhile, it’s going to become a military fight.


Absolutely. There’s going to be new channels of commerce. And China and Russia have already kind of staked claims and made it very clear they intend to contest the space. But it’s also an infrastructure problem for the military. More than half of U.S. military bases and bases overseas are estimated to be severely impacted by climate change, either severe weather and/or flooding. That’s our ability to project power overseas. That’s our ability to operate our U.S. military. 50% of the facilities are going to be affected.


And we would have to redo — think about the cost of defense as it is today.


Look at Tyndall Air Force Base. It got hit by Michael. You had F-22s in hangars that were destroyed. And think how few of those we have.



Our most-trusted institutions are the military these days. And it does seem as if, since, in the military, there’s been more experience with seeing it in real time.


Well, the military tends to be very clear eyed and pragmatic about threats. And it’s a planning culture. So they, they like to look way off into the future. And, and what’s interesting is, while the Trump administration’s been trying to take reference to the word, climate change, out of the national security strategy, out of the defense strategy, out of DoD reports and to cut funding where it can, meanwhile, the Congress, in the last two National Defense Authorization Acts, have played, has played a really, really important role, sort of putting in reporting requirements. Every service has to identify the ten most-vulnerable bases and mitigation efforts. You have to come up with an arctic strategy for when the ice melts. You have to, as a combatant commander, factor climate change into your operational planning. This gives the department top cover. I actually think there’s a role for the military, as that respected institution —




— to sort of be truth speakers on this —




— and to say, “This is real. We’re planning for it. We’re going to have to spend money on it, to be able to continue to protect the country.” So, you know, let’s get over it and get on with it.


For a transcript of the full Meet the Press show, click here.



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