The American Security Project hosted events in Knoxville and Johnson City Tennessee on June 11th and 12th, 2018. ASP Board Member, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (ret) spoke to a number of audiences on the threat of climate change to both national and global security.
The program of events began on June 11th with two roundtable discussions at the University of Tennessee, one with a State Representative in addition to Oak Ridge and University of Tennessee academics, and one with Eastern Tennessee emergency responders and city planners. At the beginning of both, Admiral Gunn gave brief introductory remarks to frame the conversation. The first discussion looked at the messaging around climate change within the state and country at large. The scholars were concerned about the lack of public understanding of climate change and the related threats. A key point of agreement was for the need for solutions-based, positive messaging.
The second roundtable highlighted some of the recent extreme weather events and the challenges that the region faces when it comes to responding and preparing for future threats. Primary challenges included, the politicization of the words “resilience” and “climate,” the divide between urban and rural communities, and lack of incentives for being prepared. Members expressed frustration in regards to an attempt two years ago to encourage communities to develop emergency response plans to build resiliency. Neighborhoods showed a surprising lack of interest that was attributed in part to the challenges of near term threats. The roundtable closed with a discussion about what to tell the next Governor. One responder argued that Tennessee must modernize the county government system to develop better models for planning and response.
The day ended with a reception with the Tennessee Municipal League Annual Meeting and the Tennessee Renewable Energy Economic Development Council (TREEDC). Attendees included mayors, city council members, and city managers. Vice Admiral Gunn provided brief remarks and engaged in a lively discussion with the audience on advanced energy and the opportunities for economic growth within Tennessee through renewables and other alternative energies.
The second day of programming started with a live appearance on Knoxville’s WVLT morning news show with Alan Williams. Admiral Gunn spoke on his impressions of the agreement with North Korea to denuclearize and explained why he is in Tennessee to discuss climate change. The recording can be found below.
Leaving Knoxville, ASP traveled to Johnson City, Tennessee to meet with the Johnson City Rotary Club and Johnson City Press. Admiral Gunn was a guest speaker at the Johnson City Rotary Club, providing a presentation on why climate change threatens Tennessee and the world. Admiral Gunn highlighted that bases across the region are threatened by sea level rise, drought, and wildfires. He explained that these threats are a distraction to the bases and stations readiness, taking the focus away from the base mission. Further, there are opportunities to respond to the threats of climate change while simultaneously, building resilience at the base. He noted that switching to advanced energy can save the military millions of dollars and protect our forward operating bases and troops out on patrol. By switching to roll-out solar panels from heavy batteries, some Marines have been able to lighten their load by half. At sea, the addition of a small electric motor to Navy ships was shown to save over 800 million barrels of fuel. Admiral Gunn closed by reminding the audience that the US must not cede leadership on advanced energy. Responding to climate change bolsters national security and economic security and maintains US leadership worldwide.
For full media coverage, see below:
Johnson City Press: Effects of climate change may spark uproar overseas, endangering U.S. national security by Mackenzie Moore
Knoxville News Sentinel: Climate change threatens readiness in disaster, security emergencies