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The Pentagon and Climate Change: Is National Security at Risk?


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America's military brass is pretty dang worried about climate change... given that a lot of their bases are, you know, near the coasts of a lot of countries including our own.

"When it comes to safety and security in the Arctic, no piece of equipment is as important as an icebreaker... Russia has 43 icebreakers (six of them nuclear-powered); Canada has 13; Finland has nine. The U.S. has one, the Polar Star, which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. It's nearly 40 years old. Within a decade, it will be scrapped, and there are no plans to build another one."

Geez:

The scale of military assets that are at risk due to our rapidly changing climate is mind-boggling. The Pentagon manages more than 555,000 facilities and 28 million acres of land — virtually all of which will be impacted by climate change in some way.

CANADA has 13 of these things and we have 1!?!? THE SHAME

Perhaps we count on Canada to break the ice for us?

PRETTY sure that's not how modern territorial expansion works Panda, but thanks for playing!

But Canada is a friend, right? Doesn't that mean we can borrow their stuff?

Nearly every naval and Air Force base on the East Coast is vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surges.

These include Eglin Air Force Base, the largest Air Force base in the United States, which is on the low-lying Florida Panhandle, and Patrick Air Force Base on Florida's Atlantic Coast. In the West, the problem is often drought and flash flooding. Fort Irwin, a seven-square-mile Army base in Southern California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, has troubles with both. California's epic drought has put the base's long-term water supply into question. Fort Irwin is one of the only bases in the U.S. with the space and the isolation to allow full-scale mock tank warfare. At the same time, the base has been pounded by extreme rain events. In August 2013, when a year's worth of rain fell in 80 minutes, flooding caused $64 million in damages on the base.

Up in Alaska, the problem is thawing permafrost and coastal erosion from stronger storms and higher tides. The Air Force's early-warning radar installations, which help the U.S. keep a close watch on anything lobbed our way from North Korea or Russia, have been hit particularly hard. At one installation, 40 feet of shoreline have been lost, endangering the reliability of the radar. At other installations, thawing permafrost has caused the radar to tilt and fall out of alignment.

In some places, these impacts are little more than expensive nuisances. But in others, the future of entire installations, many of them virtually irreplaceable due to their geography and strategic location, is in question. The U.S. naval base on Diego Garcia, a small coral atoll in the Indian Ocean, like the nearby Maldives, is sure to vanish. Built during the Cold War, Diego Garcia gave the U.S. military a footing from which to counter Soviet influence in the region, as well as to protect shipping lanes out of the Middle East. In more recent years, this rare strategic asset has become a crucial logistics hub for sending supplies to joint forces in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It also houses Air Force Satellite Control Network equipment used to control GPS. The ships and equipment can be moved easily enough, but giving up a military toehold in a vital but flammable part of the world is not something the military likes to do. "To the Navy, presence matters," says retired Rear Adm. David Titley.

The Pentagon is examining its 704 coastal installations and sites in a big study to try to figure out which bases are most at risk. Eventually some tough decisions will have to be made about which ones to close, relocate or protect. Even speculating about the number of possible closures is too hot a topic for anyone in the Pentagon to touch right now. But the process can't be put off much longer. The next meeting of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission could occur as soon as 2017. "In BRAC, all of the decisions are based on the military value," says John Conger, the deputy undersecretary of defense, who is responsible for BRAC. "Will climate change affect the military value of the installation? Well, sure it will. The question is, does it dominate the equation? And I don't think it does — yet." 

SIDEBAR: The 10 Dumbest Things Ever Said About Global Warming »

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