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US military plans for climate change

The military is preparing to adapt to a warming planet
Adaptation Roadmap /Department of Defense

The Pentagon considers climate change an "immediate risk," and is moving to update its military operations accordingly. This week, the Department of Defense published the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, its first science-based blueprint for planning campaigns and training troops in a warming world. The whole thing reads a bit like a guide to winning wars on a hostile, dystopian planet.

Essentially, the report analyzes the climatic threats pertinent to military operations worldwide, and lists the ways the DoD is upgrading its ops to stay frosty on a melting planet: altering its big-picture planning, calibrating day-to-day training procedures, improving the resiliency of its bases, and ensuring its arms providers can still make guns.


There are four impacts of climate change that concern the military most, and that it is upgrading its operations to reflect:

"The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries," the report explains, "by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability."

When the US military's own adaptation roadmap reads like a  Mad Max screenplay, maybe it's time to start paying attention. (Fox News, of course, didn't get the memo.) And hey, there's a little Water World thrown in, too: "The opening of formerly-frozen Arctic sea lanes will increase the need for the Department to monitor events, safeguard freedom of navigation, and ensure stability in this resource-rich area."

Here's the list of impacts on its plans and operations that the army is anticipating having to adapt to (the DSCA is the Defense Security Cooperation Agency):

So, given the risks enumerated above, how does the DoD plan on providing disaster assistance and remaining the world's top military superpower on a hotter, more volatile Earth? By recognizing the operational hazards and adapting to the changes climate scientists are projecting, of course.


"We are considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defense planning scenarios," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel writes in the plan's forward, "and are working with our Combatant Commands to address impacts in their areas of responsibility."

The military anticipates that "sea level rise may impact the execution of amphibious landings; changing temperature and lengthened seasons could impact operation timing windows; and increased frequency of extreme weather could impact overflight possibility as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability." Thus, the DoD is updating its purview to ready troops for extreme weather, sustained heat, and  higher tides.

And it's not just on an operations level, either—the military is updating its field exercises and training facilities to prepare for hotter, more extreme environs, too.

It is anticipating more health risks from exposing troops to greater heat, having to deal with dustier training grounds and field environments, and needing to cope with phenomena like erosion and flooding lapping at its facilities.

So, to house a superior fighting force on a melting planet, the US military plans on making its buildings more resilient.

The projections for impacts on buildings get pretty elaborate: it is concerned not just with increased heating and cooling costs for its bases, but the impact of thawing permafrost in the Arctic (which, coincidentally, is  one of the most dangerous prospective climate change-accelerating feedback loops).


In some places, climate change is already on the military's doorstep.

"In places like the Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of US military sites in the world, we see recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years," Hagel notes.

Finally, the military is looking to the future to ensure there are no supply chain issues with its weapons manufacturers—it relies on the private sector for its arms, so the DoD is apparently making sure all of its gunmakers have plans to ensure they can keep building firearms and missiles as the planet cooks and resources grow scarce.

"Many major corporations have recognized the potential effects of climate change on their operations and are aggressively pursuing manufacturing/supply resiliency efforts," the report says. "As appropriate, the Department will seek refinements to existing processes and develop new climate-­specific plans and guidance."

In an acknowledgement to the science-denying segments of the American body politic, the report underscores how much of an imperative the military considers these upgrades.

"Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning," Hagel writes. "Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure." And unless we act to blunt some of those risks by curbing carbon emissions and preparing our communities, the military is as aware as anyone as to how grim that future may be.