On October 29, the American Security Project and the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, held an event, “East Central Florida: Security in a Changing Climate” at Full Sail University. The event featured remarks by Congressman Michael Waltz and Vice Admiral Kevin Green, USN (Ret), and a panel discussion on how the impacts of climate change, like rising seas, hurricanes, and extreme heat, threaten national security, the community, and military base resilience.
Congressman Michael Waltz (FL-06) Remarks:
The Importance of Climate-Driven Solutions
At the start of the event, Congressman Waltz offered remarks on the necessity of climate-driven technology and infrastructure. Reflecting on his service as a Green Beret, the Congressman recalled the dangers of exposed energy supply lines for remote outposts, which placed service members at risk as they delivered fuel. From this experience, Congressman Waltz grew an interest in roles renewable energy could play in military operations and to improve resilience.
Now representing Florida’s 6th Congressional District and serving as a member of the Armed Services and Space House committees, Congressman Waltz emphasized the necessity for climate resilience measures on our permanent installations. He discussed how storms in the past several years have affected strategic bases on the Florida panhandle, displacing fighters and taking assets offline, and how Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base are particularly vulnerable.
The Congressman also expressed his concern about how space capabilities will be impacted by climate change. With the possibility of conflict in space, our launch capabilities will be “absolutely critical” and so bases “have to be resilient to rising sea levels, to flooding, and certainly to storms.”
The Congressman expressed that preparing installations to withstand climate change is “non-negotiable” and highlighted several programs focusing on resilience, including the Department of Defense’s Defense Community Infrastructure Program, FEMA Access Road Funding, and the Science, Space, and Technology Congressional committee, which he serves on.
He then introduced Vice Admiral Kevin Green, highlighting his experience commanding naval forces and understanding of the effects of resilience on naval assets and forces in Florida and around the world.
“We are not going to effectively address climate change unless we access every American.”
Climate’s Toll on the Military and Florida
Vice Admiral Kevin Green began by sharing a quote from the Department of Defense’s annual list of challenges facing the department, stating that “rising sea levels, extreme weather such as flooding, wildfires, or hurricanes, and a melting arctic will require the DoD to consider the security, readiness, and financial implications of these non-traditional threats.”
The Vice Admiral emphasized how climate threats can impact mission readiness, alter relationships, provide new opportunities, and destabilize nations, referring to climate change as an “accelerant of instability.”
Vice Admiral Green pointed out that at Florida bases, climate change has massive implications. With regards to extreme heat, he made note that the military pauses or limits all outdoor and strenuous activity when temperatures reach 90 degrees—these days are labeled black flag days. In Florida, there are predicted to be around 130 black flag days each year by 2050, meaning the military will be unable to properly train for one-third of the year. Further, he mentioned the tremendous effects that extreme heat has on health and that between 2008 and 2018, heat-related illness cost the DoD nearly $1 billion. At Patrick Space Force Base, climate change has also resulted in canceled launches and training, and rising seas have threatened essential infrastructure.
In terms of climate impacts on the Florida community, Vice Admiral Green emphasized how in 2017, hurricane Irma flooded many central Florida lakes, causing over 500 homes to be evacuated. Today, over 7,800 properties remain at risk for flooding. He also shared that by 2050, the severity of widespread summer drought is expected to triple.
Looking towards the Future, Vice Admiral Green highlighted the , which expanded funding for existing climate resilience programs and created funding for new programs, in addition to requiring updates to the 2014 Climate Adaptation Roadmap, which was . He ended by quoting Secretary of Defense Austin, stating that the “world is beginning to fight climate change and the U.S. must lead.”
Climate Resilience in Florida and Beyond
The final portion of the event featured a panel discussion moderated by ASP’s Adam Despang with panelists Vice Admiral Kevin Green, USN (Ret), Brevard County Commissioner Bryan Lober, City of Orlando Commissioner Antonio “Tony” Ortiz, and Space Florida’s Vice President for Government and External Relations, Dale Ketcham.
Our panelists discussed the need to consider the vast impacts of climate change, with Commissioner Lober emphasizing the threats climate change has on the local economy of Brevard, especially on the tourism industry, energy prices, and infrastructure, in addition to its threats on military bases. Commissioner Ortiz pointed out the health impacts climate change has on communities and the potential for increased crime.
Regarding addressing military resilience, Vice Admiral Green highlighted the Department of Defense’s Unified Facilities Criteria, requiring climate factors specific to a base’s location be considered in its planning and construction. Dale Ketcham emphasized the necessity of protecting space launch sites, as space provides a valuable opportunity for climate action, such as monitoring and solar power generation, and as space plays a tremendous role in U.S. security operations. Mr. Ketcham drew particular attention to Space Launch Complex 46, a launchpad in Florida extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise.
Working with the Florida community, Vice Admiral Green brought attention to the Defense Community Infrastructure Plan that provides funding to communities adjacent to, or in support of military installations. Focusing on military family and community quality of life, the plan offers a source of funding for adaption to climate change and resilience. The Vice Admiral stressed this program’s value and noted that while East Central Florida is not currently using the program, it is a great opportunity for the region. Commissioner Lober also touched on the opportunity for community-military partnerships, highlighting the Brevard County Fire Service’s partnership with Patrick Space Force’s Fire Service to provide each other with assistance in times of crisis.
Commissioner Ortiz also stressed the value of energy efficiency, both in terms of lowering costs and fighting climate effects. He drew attention to Orlando’s program evaluating large-scale buildings for energy efficiency, which has reduced energy costs in the city, sparked economic investment, and helped address climate change.
Dale Ketchum expressed his optimism for climate action as the effects become more apparent and widespread and highlighted America’s role to bring together ideas, resources, capital, and talent to address climate change in the future.
The panel ended with a question-and-answer segment in which Marine Corps veteran Yaritza Perez of expressed her concern for getting information and programs on climate change and resilience to non-English speaking communities and empowering civilians to get involved. Commissioner Ortiz highlighted Orlando’s programs to translate information in Spanish and Creole, as well as its Building Stronger Cities initiative to empower communities and deliver change. Mr. Ketcham pointed out how daunting an issue of solving climate change can be, making the empowerment of full communities a necessity. He emphasized the tremendous cost and missed opportunity of not doing so and ended by saying, “We are not going to effectively address climate change unless we access every American.”
Watch a recording of the event here: