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Admiral Phillips and Admiral Titley to House Budget Committee: The Security Costs of Climate Change

Rear Admiral Ann Phillips before the House Budget Committee_2019_7_26

Rear Admiral Ann Phillips, USN (Ret), testifies before the House Budget Committee, July 24, 2019

By Mariah Furtek

On Wednesday, June 24, the House Budget Committee held a hearing on the costs the U.S. is facing due to climate change and the resulting expenses for our security enterprise.  

Witnesses included Rear Admiral Ann Phillips, US Navy (Ret) and Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (Ret), both members of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board.  Witnesses focused on a wide range of climate change impacts on national security, coastal infrastructure, agriculture and public health.  

On the security front, Admiral Titley provided a comprehensive opening summary of relevant national security implications, characterizing climate change as a readiness issue and stressing the threat that climate change poses to international stability. 

Rear Admiral Phillips gave one of the most explicit descriptions of climate change costs, noting that Virginia Beach incurs $26 million annually in flood costs and explaining how three feet of sea level rise will cost $329 million per year. Further, she noted that making infrastructure resilient to sea level rise is estimated to cost $2.4 billion, and that Virginia Beach can serve as a case-study for sea level rise at nearby Norfolk Naval Station due to the geographical similarities between the two. Sea level rise is a threat to many military bases in the region.

As the hearing unfolded, the dialogue reflected the changes we have seen in the U.S. Congress this year: there weren’t any debates over climate science, simply conversations aimed at addressing the problem at hand. 

Representatives and witnesses acknowledged that the cost of any proposed solution should be measured against the consequences, given that there will be a tremendous cost to our nation should we ignore and fail to act in response to climate change. 

The DoD, for example, estimates that its recovery costs for last year’s hurricane damage to Tyndall AFB, FL and Camp Lejeune, NC alone will exceed $8 billion.  Doing nothing is clearly not an option. As Rear Admiral Phillips succinctly put it: “We are behind.”  

To catch up, many referenced the value and need for innovation, especially if we want to reduce global in addition to domestic carbon emissions. In his opening statement, Rear Admiral Titley reminded us of the Apollo Program, which would cost approximately $150 billion today.  A similar investment, he suggested, would radically expand our ability to address climate change.

Members also raised topics like the role of nuclear energy and the potential of small modular nuclear reactors, coastal resilience and pre-disaster mitigation, proactive action by industry and the degree to which market forces have reduced American reliance on coal, economic impacts of climate change in members’ districts, as well as several questions about climate costs to agriculture and health.

Mariah Furtek is a Research Assistant with the Center for Climate and Security and the Wilson Center

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