The irony of the U.S. military’s climate change spending

The debate over the recently released House Republican budget proposal has revealed that the United States military—one of he top polluters in the Pacific—is, in fact, very aware of the reality of climate change.

Will Caron

House Republicans released their budget proposal today, and the plan is designed to balance the budget within 10 years by reducing spending by $5.5 trillion over the decade. The president blasted the plan, saying it shows a “failure to invest in education, infrastructure, research and national defense. All the things that we need to grow, need to create jobs, to stay at the forefront of innovation and to keep our country safe.”

Senator Brian Schatz also criticized the proposal on the Senate floor today, saying that the plan would cut money the Department of Defense (DoD) currently uses to study and plan for the effects of climate change. (Senate Republicans are expected to release their proposal tomorrow.)

“The Department of Defense is in no position to get caught up in our partisan or ideological battles. The Department of Defense has to prepare for and contend with reality,” said Schatz. “We should have debates on the Senate floor; we should talk balanced budget, and whether the President’s Clean Power Plan is the right approach; we should talk about how we should approach international agreements coming into the Paris Accords; we should have a debate about whether or not a carbon fee is the most prudent approach. But what we should not do is make it impossible for the Department of Defense to do its planning and preparation.”

As part of the GOP plan to balance the budget, the proposal seeks to cut “wasteful spending,” and Schatz objected to the suggestion that defense spending on climate change research was deemed wasteful.

“I am against wasteful spending as much as anyone, but preparing for threats to our national security planning and operations is the opposite of wasteful,” he said. “It is prudent.”

The military actually spends considerable time assessing the effects that climate change could have on its facilities and capabilities, and the DoD has warned that climate change is likely to impact these facilities and capabilities.

According to the 2008 National Intelligence Council finding, “more than 30 U.S. military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels.” According to the Department of Defense, the combination of decreasing sea ice, rising sea levels and thawing permafrost along the coast of Alaska has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations.

Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the United States Pacific Command, has said that the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific is climate change because of it’s ability to destabilize security throughout the region.

In its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Department of Defense warned that the effects of climate change “are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

And it’s not just the Pacific that could be destabilized by climate change. The National Intelligence Council stated in its Global Trends 2030 report that climate change will pose stiff challenges to governance in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I find it ironic that many of my Republican colleagues who are so committed to slowing the pace of our withdrawal from Afghanistan on the premise that doing so will preserve our security gains and keep Afghanistan stable, are now tying the hands of the national security community so that they are unable to study the security effects of climate change on Afghanistan and the region,” said Schatz.

While we agree that such planning for climate change is, as the Senator said, prudent, we can’t help but find the situation sadly ironic in a different way. The military, one of the biggest polluters in the Pacific, is not only well aware of climate change, but it is, in fact, spending a great deal of effort to find solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change on its bases.

Meanwhile, a Category 5 hurricane, Pam, leveled the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Saturday and left a significant portion of its population of roughly 267,000 people homeless.

As a tropical nation, Vanuatu is no stranger to major storms. “Vanuatu has a cyclone season,” the Oxfam country director in Port Vila, Colin Collet van Rooyen, told The New York Times. “But local residents say they have never experienced anything like this.”

Alas, devastating cyclones may become more commonplace in Vanuatu, a low-lying nation considered extremely vulnerable to climate change. Roughly three quarters of the population of 267,000 work in fishing and agriculture, two industries sensitive to rising sea levels and warmer temperatures. Prolonged dry spells have begun to threaten the country’s water supply, while intense rainstorms have damaged staple crops like cabbage.

“The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives,” van Rooyen said.

Taken from The Atlantic