Event Recap: Department of Defense Action on Climate Change

Event Recap: Department of Defense Action on Climate Change

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On Friday, December 11, the American Security Project hosted the Department of Defense Action on Climate Change event. It featured a distinguished panel discussing the Department of Defense Climate Adaptation Roadmap and the results of ASP’s National Climate Security Tour.

The first speaker, Ms. Maureen Sullivan from the DoD, explained why climate change concerns the department.

“Climate change is a risk… We deal with risks,” she stated, noting that the military must have a resilient infrastructure in order to conduct successful operations. Issues caused by climate change, such as flooding, can damage military and civilian infrastructure as well as increase the difficulty in operations.

The DoD’s Roadmap addresses these risks. It lists three major goals: (1) identify and assess the risk of climate change; (2) integrate climate change into the decision-making process; (3) collaborate with internal and external stakeholders, which would ideally allow the department and local governments to better manage the risks.

The next step involves institutionalizing the roadmap into a formal DoD directive. She expects that directive to be published next week. The policy section of this directive acknowledges the necessity of adapting to climate change by anticipating future risks.

Ms. Sullivan expanded on this point by discussing the screening level vulnerability survey, which aims to look into 7,000 sites worldwide. This may involve analyzing construction projects on flood plains and determining whether or not to shift locations. It may also look at extreme weather events that could threaten military base stability and the surrounding community.

She also noted that the DoD has three 2-year pilot programs that aim to develop a replicable process that allows one to work with the community. The first program looked into the Mountain Home air-force base in Colorado and the issue of water access. The second one analyzes the risk extreme heat and flooding events have on the Michigan National Guard. The last one examined the different geological and infrastructure problems that plague the Norfolk military base.

Ms. Sullivan concluded by briefly noting the DEIC Program, which supports international engagement and establishes partnerships to mitigate the risks of climate change. This all supports her overarching premise: “Climate change is a risk we must address.”

The next speaker, ASP CEO BGen Stephen Cheney, discussed the recent tour the think tank went on to discuss climate change from a national security perspective. He reiterated the notion that climate change serves as a “threat multiplier,” and how it has exacerbated terrible situations in nations such as Mali and Syria.

Cheney highlighted some of the many things he learned from the tour. One of the most impressive feats involved a cooperative effort in the southwest – the Colorado River Compact, which now serves as a model for international water discussions. As a result from this deal, Phoenix greatly reduced its water consumption to 1950s levels, despite hosting a much larger population.

Another highlight involved Charleston’s Boeing assembly plant, which now generates more energy than it consumes. Projects such as these highlight the desire for local officials to take action. Cheney emphasized this notion, stating that “the mayors get it, sometimes more than the governors.”

The final speaker, Dr. Leo Goff, Program Manager of the Military Advisory Board of the Center for Naval Analyses, expanded on the talk given by General Cheney. He discussed the benefits of these nationwide talks, noting that many people did not understand the link between climate and security.

To better address the point, Dr. Goff argued that the message must address local concerns. In other words, the speaker must know their audience. For example, Florida has more interest in international trade than rising sea levels. As such, framing the discussion around their concerns will better drive the message across. Iowa, on the other hand, might have concerns about farming costs and renewable energy accessibility.

Finally, Dr. Goff addressed the military concerns regarding climate change. “It’s about the people,” he exclaimed, in reference to extreme weather affecting 7.3 billion individuals. He acknowledged that action addressing this issue remains difficult, though, partly because people have a tendency to think in the short-term rather than the long-term. This is unfortunate, considering that military infrastructure, such as aircraft carriers, are built to last 80 years. Because of this, it remains crucial to understand the future security situation for that area.

The event concluded with a Q&A session. It highlighted some key insights into the decision-making process. For one, the DoD factors in climate change into their decisions and policies addressing cost efficiency. This is crucial since directives tend to stay in place for years.

General Cheney and Dr. Goff also explained the reluctance of policy-makers to publicly address climate change, particularly due to potential constituent backlash. On a more optimistic note, they observed that climate change tends to greatly resonate with younger individuals (i.e. under 30). In the future, this might lead to a more concerned and active constituency.

As a result, we might see much more proactive legislators, especially in their commitment to R&D. This has the potential to greatly mitigate climate change, increase energy security, and most of all, improve our national security.

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