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Climate change, Trump, and the U.S. military: a tale of two policies

Analysts expect the military to continue with its climate change adaptation and preparedness programs, despite the President’s recently announced National Security Strategy that omitted it as a threat.

The U.S. government appears to be of two minds, with utterly opposing worldviews, on climate change policy.

On one hand, the Trump Administration has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, has proposed eliminating three vital new climate satellites, reneged on an Obama era $2 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund, and wants to slash funding to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency domestic climate programs and State Department USAID climate programs around the globe. The President has also denounced global warming as a hoax and a Chinese plot.

On the other hand, the Republican-dominated Congress has affirmed that climate change is a prominent national security threat and mandated that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) look closely at how climate change is going to affect key installations, while also addressing the need to boost the military’s finances considerably to deal with global warming threats. When Trump’s National Security Strategy – announced in January – erased climate change as a threat to U.S. security, that decision drew the ire of a bipartisan group of congressional legislators.

As a result of this dichotomy, the DoD has emerged as an unlikely champion of climate action in the Trump government, with the Pentagon declaring emphatically that a rapidly warming world is bringing with it alarming security risks ranging from rising sea level (which threatens naval bases such as Norfolk, Virginia, the largest in the world), to the “mother of all risks” unpredictable and worsening political instability around the globe brought by climate chaos.

Indeed, Trump’s own Secretary of State, Jim Mattis, was hailed before taking office as the “lone green hope,” due to his recognition of global warming’s clear and present danger.

However, the U.S. military is far from being environmentally friendly. It has a horrifically destructive record as one of the planet’s worst polluters, and it also can lay claim to a heavy, and largely unreported, carbon bootprint (it is the single largest institutional user of fossil fuels in the world).

A year into Trump’s term, it remains to be seen whether the president’s climate-unfriendly policies will curtail the DoD’s global warming response. Complicating this question are efforts by the White House and Congress to wildly expand the size of the military, which could exponentially increase its fossil fuel bootprint, something critics argue is the opposite of what is environmentally needed.

The Department of the Navy needs to be prepared to mitigate all adverse impacts to its mission from a variety of risk sources, including but not limited to climate change.

Kenneth Huss, spokesperson, US Navy

A booming U.S. military budget

Trump has been a notably unorthodox Republican President, with a frequently tenuous attachment to his party’s agenda. But when it comes to military spending, he is in tune with long time GOP policy. Trump is currently seeking an $18 billion military bump for 2018, compared to 2017 levels, to be made at the expense of domestic spending, including the budget of the U.S. EPA.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, declared this figure as “inadequate” and laid out his plans for a much larger increase of $85 billion. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by the President this past December, goes much further than Trump’s own figure.

The NDAA allots $700 billion, sailing past the $619 billion Congress agreed to in last year’s bill, and includes a budget-cap-busting wish list that revamps the military and includes new navy ships, fighter jets, more troops, and a pay increase for all current officers.

Of course, that behemoth budget boost may never happen as it is Congress that has the final say on the military budget and it has yet to vote. 2018 NDAA spending also exceeds caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, and it is uncertain where the increased spending will come from.

However, the NDAA does something Trump probably doesn’t want it to do: it clearly designates climate change as a “direct threat” to the national security of the United States and orders the military to submit a “report on vulnerabilities to military installations and combatant commander requirements resulting from climate change over the next thirty years.”

“A threat multiplier”

While the NDAA mandate is important, it is not entirely new. Climate change has been on the military’s radar for well over a decade, but not due to the threat it presents to the planet’s environment.

First and foremost in the military mind is the Pentagon’s mission: to defend the United States and its national interest. Seen within this framework, climate change is viewed as a “threat multiplier,” rather than a distinct, standalone issue.

“Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration,” potentially leading to civil strife and war, reads the grim forecast outlined by the 2010 DoD Quadrennial Defense Review. The Pentagon isn’t alone in its predictions; a report from the American Security Project says that 70 percent of the world’s nations have assessed climate change as a threat to their national security.

However, the U.S. Armed Forces response isn’t to immediately cut its carbon emissions in order to curb climate change. Rather it is to determine how best to defend against the instability and chaos that climate change may bring to the international community, as well as the threat it poses to U.S. military bases and operations around the globe.

The world’s oceans vs. the Department of Defense

At home, the threat to U.S. military installations is evident. A 2011 U.S. Navy reportfound that a three-foot rise in sea level would endanger 128 DoD installations, valued collectively at around $100 billion. A further study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), delved deeper into the future of 18 bases which already face flooding: “By the end of this century, most installations can expect a large increase in the frequency of tidal flooding, storm surges that cover greater areas at increased depth, and loss of utilized land area to the sea.”

In short, said the UCS, United States coastal military bases face a “flooded future.”

A three feet sea level rise is already considered by scientists to be “locked in.” But many researchers believe the world could be looking at rises of eight feet, and even up to 11 feet by century’s end, which would swamp pretty much all current DoD base adaptation efforts.

Curt Storlazzi, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has been carrying out research on the Marshall Islands with funding from the DoD, to look at how climate models threaten U.S installations there. He says that, in the past, the islands were overwashed by storms roughly once every twenty to thirty years. Now, it’s more like once, or even twice, per decade.

“All I can say is we’re talking decades, not centuries,” before the islands are overwashed so frequently that they become almost uninhabitable, he adds. The recent Congress Armed Forces Appropriations bill states quite clearly: “In the Marshall Islands an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of [$1 billion] is projected to be underwater within two decades.”

This is a looming reality U.S. coastal military installations face around the globe – many will be overrun by the sea and lost forever soon, without the firing of a single shot by a hostile power.

This story was published with permission from Read the full story.


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