Climate change promises to make for some interesting national security problems

Climate change promises to make for some interesting national security problems


By David Sterman
Best Defense reporter

Climate change already is affecting national security in a variety of ways, panelists argued at a recent meeting at Georgetown University.

Among them was Alice Hill, a White House official, who said the impact is already being felt and that it “will affect virtually every country on earth.” Hill, the Senior Director for Resilience Policy on the staff of the National Security Council, noted that we saw the impact of the trend towards more extreme weather with Hurricane Sandy, during which millions lost power across 24 states, and where the storm surge was 14 feet, higher than the predicted 11 feet.

Hill, speaking at the event held by Georgetown University’s National Security Law Society, reminded the audience of the Summer 2011 heat when an airplane got stuck in the tarmac at Reagan National Airport because it was so hot, noted a nuclear power plant was taken offline because the cooling water was too hot, and pointed out that shipping on the Mississippi River shut down twice due to weather extremes — once because the heat resulted in too little water flow on the river and once due to flooding both likely results of climate change. Hill also noted the more granular impact on military preparedness saying that sea level rises will impact the Norfolk and Hampton Roads area where many military personnel live, and where one study found 300 miles of flood-vulnerable roads.

The panelists also pointed to some obstacles within the U.S. government to dealing more effectively with the security implications of climate change. Zvika Krieger, a senior advisor at the State Department, argued that what the military does do on mitigation and fuel efficiency is a result of a focus on protecting supply lines rather than on preventing climate change. He added that he thinks there is a wall within the Pentagon between efforts to mitigate the drivers of climate change and the efforts to adapt to its effects.

David Sterman is a research associate at New America’s International Security Program.

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