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The Pentagon Is Taking Climate Change Seriously

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt departs Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled deployment Tuesday March 11, 2015. The deployment is part of a regular rotation of forces.

CREDIT: AP Photo/US Navy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Wolpert

A little over a year ago, the U.S. Department of Defense identified climate change as a “significant challenge” for the US military for the first time. It recently addressed this challenge through instructions for handling hazards caused by the earth’s changing climate.

The 12-page document, titled “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience,” is aimed at armed service chiefs and top civilian officials, and explains how climate change will affect missions. It also discusses how to manage new risks posed by climate change.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave a speech on climate change’s threat to the U.S. military over a year ago in Peru, calling it a “threat multiplier.”

He noted: “A higher tempo and intensity of natural disasters could demand more support for our civil authorities, and more humanitarian assistance and relief.  Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains, and critical equipment.”

According to the new document, resilience to issues caused by climate change is defined by the Pentagon as, “ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.”

The document also delegates climate change related tasks to specific Defense Department offices. These tasks range from figuring out how higher sea levels or droughts could affect U.S. bases to determining what new equipment might be necessary in the melting Arctic region.

“Although this looks very bureaucratic in nature, I would actually give the department full credit for it,” said David Titley, a retired rear admiral who served as the Navy’s top oceanographer. “I think this is one of the more significant steps they’ve done, because they’ve linked that high-level strategy down to a daily to-do list.”

Titley also said that the new protocol shows that the Pentagon “is now thinking seriously” about whether the American military “have the right tools, the right equipment, the right training, and the right risks for a changing environment.”

The Navy is currently experiencing some of the effects of climate change at its Atlantic fleet headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. Rising seas and a sinking shore already threaten the fleet, and Norfolk experiences periodic coastal flooding from the rising oceans.

As Titley suggested, the new protocol suggests that the Pentagon now considers climate change a serious threat to its operations. This shows how pervasive the issues caused by climate change can be, and comes at the heels of several key announcements by the Obama administration to combat climate change. As more and more U.S. departments recognize climate change as a threat, there may be a stronger push towards policies that work to combat it.

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