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Event Recap: A New Mission: Mainstreaming Climate Adaptation in the U.S. Department of Defense Panelists for the virtual event

Event Recap: A New Mission: Mainstreaming Climate Adaptation in the U.S. Department of Defense

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On November 16, the American Security Project and the University of Arizona convened a panel of experts to discuss the recently published research by University of Arizona faculty on the effects of climate change at Department of Defense installations in Arizona. The panel featured report authors Dr. Gregg Garfin and Professor Katharine Jacobs, Lieutenant General Norm Seip, USAF (Ret.), and Rear Admiral David Titley, USN (Ret.).  Professor Jacobs, Director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (CCASS) at the University of Arizona, moderated the panel discussion and fielded questions from attendees.

John O’Neil, Vice President of Research Development at the University of Arizona, opened discussions for the panelists with a brief overview of the University’s efforts toward disseminating reliable climate research that informs effective adaptation policy. He contextualized discussions of military preparedness and climate change as meaning “much more than understanding rising temperatures,” instead calibrating the scope of the issue broadly as “the extreme events and related environmental and social issues that are of even greater concern.” O’Neil lauded the University of Arizona as a well-equipped partnership on climate research and policy for the Department of Defense in the Southwest U.S. and beyond.

Then, Dr. Gregg Garfin, Associate Professor and University Director of the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, described his team’s research findings on the climate change preparedness of four different military base installations in the Southwestern US: Naval Base Coronado in Southern California (USN), Barry M. Goldwater West and Barry M. Goldwater East (USMC) in Southern Arizona, and Fort Huachuca (USA) in Southeastern Arizona. The study determined climate-related concerns at individual installations, evaluated the Department of Defense’s planning processes, identified needs and gaps related to preparation for climate disasters at individual installations, and recommended strategic improvements. Their research was comprised of site visits, discussions with base staff focus groups, and interviews with active and retired DoD personnel. Dr. Garfin noted several climate challenges threatening base installations and compromising military preparedness, including sea level rise, beach erosion, wildfire, drought and water scarcity, intense precipitation, extreme heat, and heat waves. These issues increasingly impede the ability of the studied installations to conduct military operations, in turn negatively affecting equipment function and delaying personnel training days. These alarming climate trends also affect the surrounding communities of local Arizonans.

In response to these findings, Rear Admiral David Titley, USN (Ret.) and Lieutenant General Norm Seip, USAF (Ret.) discussed how the Department of Defense could improve their military readiness in the face of climate-related obstacles. Lt. Gen. Seip, now a Senior Mentor for the Air Force, stressed the importance of forward-thinking climate policy implementations in Department of Defense planning material—while climate disasters are often an immediate threat requiring a quick response, military installations must also devise long-term climate adaptations to ensure military preparedness into the future.

Dr. Titley, currently a professor at Pennsylvania State University in both Meteorology and International Affairs, suggested one way to create a “culture” of climate change readiness within the DoD would be to generate interest not just within current political leadership, but also within upper-level circles of military personnel and officer briefings. We must ensure that current climate change discussions are not one singular “episode of interest,” but rather an ongoing concern of active-duty flag officers, said Dr. Titley. “Leadership counts,” he added, calling for a concern regarding military preparedness for climate-related disasters that transcends the political cycle. Climate change requires “deliberate and proactive monitoring of what’s changing,” Dr. Garkin agreed. There must be “active learning about whether the strategies implemented are effective.”

There was a consensus among the panelists that the Department of Defense must work to retain institutional knowledge within installation management and integrate climate adaptation measures into existing military planning documents.

In closing, each panelist left ASP’s online audience with some thoughts on the future of DoD’s climate adaptation strategy. Regarding mainstreaming the climate adaptation conversation, Lt. Gen. Seip called upon climate change resiliency and adaptation advocates to engage with a wide variety of audiences in need of information on the realities of climate change. “Climate change is not a ‘one and done’ proposition.” said Dr. Garkin, echoing Dr. Titley’s remarks that “This is a marathon. The climate doesn’t care whether or not we adapt. Not preparing for the climate is putting our military readiness at risk.”

This event is part of the American Security Project’s larger regional climate security tour, whereby ASP seeks to raise awareness in populations local to domestic military installations on methods of achieving climate resiliency through a variety of adaptation and mitigation methods.