The effects of climate change — including extreme weather, drought and sea-level rise — pose a serious threat to U.S. national security, according to a report released Wednesday. Because of the effects, the country’s already "stretched" military capacity is being put to the test, it said.
“National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” written by 12 retired military leaders and published by the Center for Naval Analyses, a national security analysis nonprofit, said the U.S. armed forces should create a 30- to 40-year plan to address the risks.
“It is not possible to discuss the future of national and international security without addressing climate change,” retired Air Force Gen. Donald Hoffman said Wednesday in a press release. “Food shortages, droughts, floods — all directly tied to climate change will be catalysts for conflict.”
Unlike traditional national security concerns, climate change has the potential to create multiple chronic conditions occurring simultaneously around the world, the report said. It called climate change’s projected impact on water, food and energy security “profound.”
The world can expect “more poverty, more forced migrations, higher unemployment,” retired Navy admiral and former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command T. Joseph Lopez said in the report. He added that those conditions are “ripe” for extremists — another national security concern that climate change will likely exacerbate.
Still, the majority of the report’s recommendations were related to addressing domestic vulnerabilities.
An increase in frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, for example, could have a destabilizing effect on U.S. fleets and ships, retired Navy Adm. Donald L. Pilling, former vice chief of naval operations, said in the report.
“It may cause you to move ships north to avoid hurricanes … it impacts maintenance schedules and impacts operational structures. And that doesn’t factor in the damage that hurricanes can do to our ports,” Pilling said, adding that Hurricane Katrina cost the Navy billions in repairs to its base in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Extreme weather events like hurricanes are made worse by rising sea levels, the report added. Just as the U.S. military was called upon to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, climate change will likely increase calls for military assistance.
However, flooding could hamper the military’s ability to respond. Sea level rise (SLR), which could reach as high as 7 feet by 2100, could submerge large swaths of the U.S. Inundation models by the University of Arizona project that just a 3-foot SLR would cause most of Miami, Fort Myers, the Everglades and the Florida Keys to disappear.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan forced Florida’s Naval Air Station Pensacola to close for almost a year, the report noted.
Climate change — whether hotter, drier or wetter — will add stress to U.S. military weapons systems and equipment. “This could compromise troop readiness and strain base resilience,” the report said.
Additionally, strains related to climate change, including water scarcity and extreme weather, could cause an influx of migrants escaping north to the U.S.
While some debate remains in certain circles regarding the cause of climate change, the authors of the report urged the public to “move beyond the arguments of cause and effect” and focus on addressing the “potentially devastating effects” of the clear trend of warming.
“We seem to be standing by, and, frankly, asking for perfectness in science,” Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, former U.S. Army chief of staff and chairman of the Military Advisory Board, said in the report.
“People are saying they want to be convinced, perfectly … We never have 100 percent certainty. We never have it. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”