On May 19, the American Security Project held a virtual event with Vice Admiral Lee Gunn USN (Ret.) and Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USA (Ret.) to discuss the national security implications of climate change in the Tampa Bay region.
BGen Cheney opened the event by highlighting the importance of Florida to national security, then acknowledged the realities of climate change, saying “the science is settled.” He told a personal anecdote from 2018 when Hurricane Florence hit Camp Lejeune. Despite only being a Category 2 storm, it stalled in place and dumped up to 20 inches of rain, causing $3 – $4 billion worth of damage. Slowing storms that remain intact farther inland, like Hurricane Florence, are occurring more frequently thus causing more damage than is usually seen from similar storms.
VADM Gunn went on to describe climate threats facing Florida, like rising seas, extreme weather, and rising temperatures. He explained that rising rates of heat injury experienced by the armed services may worsen as temperatures rise here in the US and abroad.
BGen Cheney followed with a personal example. When he took command of Parris island, his predecessor warned him that the major challenge he would face would be hurricanes, despite the fact the base had not experienced a hurricane in 40 years. Three years later Hurricane Floyd took aim at the Carolina coast and caused them to evacuate 8,000 recruits from the base. Thankfully, Floyd changed direction, causing minor damage. Had they suffered a direct hit, the base may have looked Tyndall Air Force Base after Hurricane Michael in 2018.
The military sees its responsibilities shifting as the impacts of climate change become more prevalent. VADM Gunn explained, “there are tasks at home that are increasingly falling to the military as well, not just national guard but the active military in some cases.”
VADM Gunn continued, discussing climate change’s effect on international missions managed from MacDill AFB in Tampa, saying: “The effects of climate change abroad are adding to the difficulties that troops face when they [deploy], the causes that require them to [go], and the missions they have to perform once there. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are becoming increasingly prominent missions for all of the five military services.”
When asked how climate change exacerbates conflict, BGen Cheney recalled water insecurity affecting communities around Lake Chad. In the last 30 years Lake Chad has lost 70-80% of its water, which has displaced the local populations. In turn the area became fertile ground for the Islamist militant group Boko Haram which is still contributing to regional instability today.
VADM Gunn noted Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.’s motto “Accelerate Change or Lose” when viewing the MacDill AFB website. On this he commented “[This] encapsulates what our military, civilian populace, domestic economy, and our diplomats have to contend with to deal appropriately with and to mobilize the forces necessary to [mitigate the effects of climate change.]”
The event also included discussion on the economy. America’s leadership as the world transitions inevitably to new and renewable forms of energy production, transmission, and energy use is a matter of economic competitiveness with the rest of the world.
VADM Gunn concluded his comments with three points: we must acknowledge the problem of climate change, get going, and curb greenhouse gas emissions. To do this we must manage our resources well to allow us to muster our offensive and defensive capabilities against climate change.
When it comes to addressing climate change, VADM Gunn asserted “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way” and BGen Cheney added “Now is not the time to be complacent.”
Overall, VADM Gunn is impressed with resiliency work in Florida and thinks it is clear Floridians are taking this issue seriously.
Watch the full recording here:
Additional Resources from the American Security Project: