Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Trouble with Trump Leaving Climate Change to the Military - by David Roberts

An adaptation-only climate strategy will be ugly indeed.

The Army helped distribute food and water in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Late last week, the Pentagon released the unclassified summary version of America’s new National Defense Strategy.  For the first time since 2008, it makes no mention of climate change.

The administration didn’t cite climate change in its National Security Strategy release in December, either.  After that, a bipartisan group of 106 lawmakers begged Trump to reconsider, but at this point, there is no reason to think he or his appointees plan to listen.  At least formally, they plan to ignore climate change in security and military policy.

This neglect has prompted a great deal of agita in the climate community, where the nexus of climate change and national security is intensely studied.  It would be strategically disastrous for the US military to ignore climate change.  Practically speaking, it cannot.

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral now serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, succinctly lays out the reasons the military can’t ignore climate change in this piece.  Scarcity of water and other resources will drive dislocation and conflict, he writes.  Coastal Naval bases are in danger of being inundated by rising seas; the Arctic is melting and opening new areas of geopolitical conflict; the rising cost of climate impacts will squeeze the military budget; and responding to severe weather events will reduce military readiness.

The military is taking climate change seriously because it has to.  Unlike its Commander in Chief, it is not involved in a reality show — it has to deal with actual reality.

When I contemplate the military’s approach to climate change, however, I don’t worry so much that Trump will stop or derail it.  Concern about adapting to climate change is already deeply embedded in the military.  It would take sustained, focused effort to root it out, and thus far the administration has not distinguished itself in the area of sustained, focused effort.

A more likely outcome is that Trump continues to lay waste to domestic regulations and international cooperation on climate, leaving the US with a de facto military-only climate policy.  This is something close to a dystopian outcome, especially if it catches on as the post-denial conservative position on climate.

That’s my worry:  that the terminal gridlock of US domestic politics will leave us with climate policies that do little but prepare us to dominate a more violent and unequal world.

The Department of Defense is still operating under Obama’s Directive 4715.21, which establishes an elaborate, cross-service effort to assess and respond to concerns over “climate adaptation and resilience.”

Climate concerns are expressed in incredibly strong terms in the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in December by none other than Trump himself (though his administration had little role in shaping it).  The NDAA also establishes a broad review of the vulnerability of military bases and facilities to climate change.

And the concern has sunk into the professional military class.  Trump’s own secretary of defense, James Mattis, was frank about the threat of climate change in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” he wrote.

Trump’s nominee to oversee Navy facilities, Phyllis Bayer, testified to the same committee that she agrees with Mattis and that rising seas and other climate impacts are a top threat to the service.  Trump’s nominee to oversee Air Force installations echoed the warning about “the increasing severity of weather events and sea level rise due to climate change.”

Read more at The Trouble with Trump Leaving Climate Change to the Military

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