Military bases have been making news over the last several years, but not for military maneuvers or deployments. Instead, many bases around the world have been feeling the direct impacts of climate change in the form of powerful storms and weather systems.
Now a group of former top military leaders and national security experts have created a sweeping plan of action to protect our nation from “these unprecedented security risks urgently and comprehensively.”
Military Bases Brace for Impact of Climate Change
The Climate Security Plan for America was issued by the Center for Climate a Security, a DC-based think tank, along with the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
“The Climate Security Plan for America is a call for Presidential leadership to prioritize this challenge and take action to protect our national security in the face of the coming storm,” said John Conger, director of the Center for Climate and Security.
The plan has been endorsed by 64 leaders in the US military and national security, including Gen. Larry Welch (R), former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force; Adm. Samuel Locklear (R), former commander of U.S. Pacific Command; and Gen. Anthony Zinni (R), former commander of U.S. Central Command.
Majority of Bases at Major Risk Due to Climate Change
This proposal, while limited to managing future risks rather than slowing or reserving climate change immediately, follows closely on the heels of a major Pentagon report discussing the projected impact of severe weather related to our changing climate.
Released in June 2018, the DoD-commissioned report found that about half of all US military bases, CONUS and OCONUS, are at risk for flooding due to climate change-related severe weather. Other risks reported at over 50% of military bases due to climate change included wildfires, storm surge, high winds and drought.
Many bases are already feeling the impacts of increased severe weather patterns. MCB Camp Lejeune, AFB Tyndall, MCAS Cherry Point and AFB Offutt have experienced devastating weather patterns, including hurricanes, between August 2018 and August 2019. Tyndall is still trying to recover after being virtually destroyed. In addition, Okinawa, a major hub for US military forces of all branches in the Pacific, has been experiencing multiple major typhoon systems during the 2019 season.
Weather-Related Destruction Impacts Military Missions
While military families feel the impact of severe weather on the homefront, it also complicates the national security and defense missions the troops are tasked with carrying out daily.
As of late May, the Air Force was still struggling to repair the massive damages at AFB Tyndall. Virtually every single structure was damaged or completely destroyed as a result of Hurrican Michael in 2018.
One year later, the Air Force was still waiting for Congress to pass an aid bill that would allow this base to rebuild.
MCB Camp Lejeune was also waiting for funding from this same $19 billion bill in order to continue repairing damages from Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Estimates in December 2018 put the cost to rebuild and repair at $3.6 billion.
Without this funding, the Air Force, as of May 2019, was looking at cutting thousands of hours of training flights. With multiple Air Force bases severely damaged by storms over the last year, the budget has been stretched thin in order to cover the massive cost to repair the destruction.
At Lejeune, military families have already seen how Hurricane Florence has hit their Marines’ missions. As of November 2018, incoming families were told to look for housing off-base due to hurricane damage.
Addressing the Present Climate Change Danger
The proposal from the Center for Climate and Security focuses on risk management for climate-related impacts on the military mission. However, it does not propose strategies or solutions that will stop or reverse climate change.
Some bases have taken steps on their own to address energy and resource in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment. Fort Hood currently receives 40% of its energy from renewable sources, including solar and wind power. Eventually, base leadership would like to create a microgrid that can sustain the base in the event the larger power systems fail.
“(M)ilitary planners don’t have the luxury of playing politics on the issue. They know that they have to do what’s required to ensure our country is kept secure and safe,” Maj. Gen. Rick Devereaux (R), former director of operational planning, policy and strategy for the U.S. Air Force, explained to Yale Climate Connections.