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Pentagon ‘clear’ climate change is a ‘national security’ issue

US military officials say threat from global warming is evident, calling for focus on efficiency and clean energy systems

(Pic: US Navy/Flickr)

(Pic: US Navy/Flickr)

By Ed King

The threats posed by climate change are “overwhelmingly clear” to everyone at US military headquarters, a senior Pentagon official has told a Senate enquiry.

While many leading US politicians remain sceptical over the science behind global warming, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, said military planners were convinced, and concerned.

“If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield, something bad is going to happen,” he said, quoting former US chief of staff Gordon Sullivan.

“We look for indicators, warnings, reasons to take action that are prudent. Not to place a bet on a certainty – but it is overwhelmingly clear to everyone in the Pentagon and majority of folks in our nation that climate change is happening and we need to do something about it.”

McGinn said the Pentagon was reassessing how secure its bases are in light of future climate impacts, and is especially worried about the effect sea level rise could have on naval dockyards.

“We are building places that will be safe when the wind is howling and sea level rise that is caused by storm surges like Superstorm Sandy,” he added. “We are dealing with this as a serious threat because it is.”

Also speaking at the enquiry, arranged by the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Daniel Chiu, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, described climate change as a “threat multiplier”, and one of many future “considerations” planners are taking into account.

He cited the Arctic as an area the Pentagon was increasingly focused on, referring to the scenarios melting ice presented as a “decades-long dynamic”

Hostile Congress

The comments highlight the marked attitudes to climate change between the military and many Republican politicians on Capitol Hill, who remain intensely hostile to any measures aimed at cutting US greenhouse gas emissions.

An increasing number of attacks against President Barack Obama’s new emission standards for power plants are expected over the summer, ahead of November’s mid-term elections.

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release proposals to penalise polluting energy plants, a move that will likely hit coal-producing states hard.

Last week the House of Representatives passed an amendment aimed at stopping the Department of Defense from using any funds to address climate change.

“None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the US Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report,” it read.

Released earlier in May, the US National Climate Assessment warned widespread and visible impacts are already being felt by US citizens.

US average temperatures have risen from 0.7C to 1.1C since 1895 it said, a warming trend that was set to continue over the coming decades.

“Evidence indicates that the human influence on climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events such as the record-breaking summer heat experienced in 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma.”

Rising concern

McGinn’s comments are the latest from senior military officials, evidently concerned that some US politicians are keen to dismiss the threat posed by rising carbon emissions.

This month sixteen retired generals and admirals on the non-profit CNA Military Advisory Board published a 47-page report outlining why climate change is a national security risk.

“Even though we may not have 100% certainty as to the cause or even the exact magnitude of the impacts, the risks associated with projected climate change warrant taking action today to plan and prepare for changes in our communities, at home and abroad,” the said.

And in an interview with RTCC, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Jamie Shea said a UN emissions reduction deal was essential for global stability.

“If we do nothing and there is no agreement, we could go up to more alarming scenarios. Then even the military, particularly with the budgets we have at the moment, could be somewhat overwhelmed,” he said.

The US military is the country’s single largest energy consumer, which comes with an annual bill of $20 billion. In Afghanistan alone it uses 9 million barrels of oil a year.

In 2012 the White House announced the military aimed to develop 3 gigawatts of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass on bases by 2025.

In April this year the Pentagon released its own energy strategy, outlining how it plans to invest in more efficient transport and weapons systems, and programmes to promote “energy as a mission essential resource”.

“We are attacking efficiency vigorously,” said McGinn, adding tidal power and hydro are also on the agenda for future investments.

“The other equally important dynamic in achieving efficiency is culture – just letting our sailors and marines understand that energy is a war fighting necessity, and we can get more fight for less fuel if we are wise in how we use the equipment we have today.”

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  • SayWhat

    “US average temperatures have risen from 0.7C to 1.1C since 1895…a warming trend that was set to continue over the coming decades”

    That’s 0.4C over 119 years, so less than 0.034C per decade is “overwhelmingly clear”?

    Since all of the major climate data sets show no warming for the past decade, why the fuss?

    • What

      The temperature has increased by .7C to 1.1C, depending on the datasets used. The issue is that the rate is increasing. From NASA’s website, the mean global average temperature has increased by approximately .7C since 1950, which is a rate of .107C per decade. Also, radiative forcing is up in the last decade, despite the relative stalling of actual temperatures. The extra energy is being stored in the deep oceans and elsewhere in the climate system, but it will eventually manifest itself as an increase in temperature.

      Sources: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/Fig.A2.gif


    • Sandroidiego

      It’s worded a little strangely, but that’s not what it’s saying. It hasn’t gone FROM 0.7C in 1895 TO 1.1C today. Those numbers represent the range of temperature change from 1895. That is, in some places, the average temp has gone up by 0.7C since 1895 and in others it has gone up by 1.1C since 1895.

      The country is pretty large, so the temperature changes are not going to be uniform across the entire country. It’s more like from .058C per decade to .092C per decade.

  • Jeff Miller

    Why doesn’t Obama do something to save us?

    • Truth Teller

      Jeff- Because he is up against the political wall! Most republican policy makers think that global warming is a huge hoax, that would include all of the scientists in the world that believe in climate change. Climate change is like gravity, you can’t see it, but make no mistake, it is there! It is absurd for anyone to think this is a hoax, but there was 25 mil dollars funneled into websites by the Koch brothers, who post lies and misinformation about climate change. The hoax lie is one of them. All of this is stopping progress on our fight against climate change. It, however, will not be very long before our president uses his executive powers to override those that are stopping our fight. Lot’s of people are so afraid of change. We humans, generally do not do well with change. We are all going to have to learn to adapt to new ways of doing things, and, eventually, we will do it.

      • James Fenimore Cooper

        They say it is a hoax for political cover for their prime loyalty to Big Oil and Coal.
        The “hoax” charge is a smoke screen.

    • James Fenimore Cooper

      Are you kidding? Republicans say “no” before Obama finishes asking.

      Republicans first loyalty is to Big Oil and Coal, not to out children and grandchildren, and America.

  • Truth Teller

    Jeff- What’s all the fuss about? You obviously have not been keeping up with the information that is right at your fingertips. It would behoove yourself to actually research climate change @ NASA/ClimateChange. The higher our temps, the more extreme weather events we will see. You are not reading the correct data for temperature rise. Every single decade has been warmer than the last, it does not take much of a temperature rise to affect our climate. This past decade has been warming, with over 90% of the heat going into the oceans. The oceans have warmed, and are becoming acidic, because of all the CO2. Before the Industrial revolution, our temps worldwide stayed pretty much the same. If it did change , it took millions of years to do so. Then along came the Industrial Revolution when our temps started rising and Co2 and other greenhouse gases, trapping our heat, and raising the temps. The higher the temps, the more effects we will have like, droughts, heat waves, diseases and flooding. Some people will lose their lives because of these effects. There are things we can do to keep the temps from rising at the rate they are. We can reduce our CO2 emissions by moving towards implementing clean energy. By reducing the CO2, we will also reduce the effects of climate change. We can keep from making it worse. We only have a small window of time to do this. If we do nothing, it WILL be catastrophic for our children and grandchildren. THAT is why there is all this fuss.

  • James Fenimore Cooper

    Republicans want to protect their Big Fossil fuel funders more than protecting America. The military speaks the truth, Republicans want to silence them.

    Is what the Republicans are doing Treason?