While 63% of U.S. citizens perceive climate change as a threat, the ripple effect of rising ocean levels or increased temperatures expands more than most of us realize. Fortunately, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is a believer in business continuity. In a report released in late 2014, Hagel was quoted, saying what business continuity experts are constantly preaching, “Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.”
Our changing climate
“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier,’” writes Hagel in The Department of Defense’s 2014 Climate Change Adaption Roadmap report, “because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.”
The specific impacts of global warming are controversial. There are arguments about what climate events should be attributed to climate change and which ones are simply naturally occurring events, but according to NASA, effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.
According to Hagel, these effects are changing the way we approach national security.
Climate change and national security
Higher sea levels mean compromised bases and technology. An increase in storms and unusual weather patterns mean military training now requires a wider array of training scenarios – including more storm and flooding-based war games; but climate change is not just affecting the conditions in which the military may need to work in, but also who becomes a threat.
Weather disasters that lead to drought and disruptions of food, water and power supplies can undermine fragile governments, creating “an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.” For example, The Washington Post reports that some experts believe that a severe drought helped push Syria toward civil war.
What the U.S. is doing
As illustrated in his quotes above, Hagel is not taking the threat of climate change lightly; he is planning and implementing change. Here are just a few of the things the Pentagon and DoD are doing to both prepare for the effects of climate change and combat it:
- The DoD is assessing climate change impacts and incorporating them into day-to-day military decisions by doing things such as adding new war game scenarios.
- Generators in flood-prone areas are being moved to higher ground.
- Troops will need additional health monitoring and protection from infectious diseases, which are spreading as the climate warms.
- All branches of military service have established clean energy goals and are working to meet them.
- The DoD developed a climate change working group in 2012.
- Hagel released a new Defense Department strategy for the Arctic in 2013.
While our government and military have the resources to fuel a lot of change, we are only one of 190+ countries. In the report, Hagel words echo the thoughts of both cyber and physical security experts, “Climate change is a global problem . . . Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone. We must work together, building joint capabilities to deal with these emerging threats.”