From flooding that could damage coastal infrastructure to extreme temperatures that threaten electrical systems, the Obama-era Pentagon identified a host of challenges in arguing climate change was a legitimate national security threat to the nation — a conclusion President Trump reversed Monday.
Mr. Trump’s revamped national security strategy no longer lists global warming as a security threat, potentially allowing the Defense Department to cease some of its aggressive programs to combat climate change. Specialists say the Pentagon will by no means begin ignoring climate-related challenges, but the president’s new directive means the issue is no longer at the top of the agenda when considering national security threats.
Instead, Mr. Trump said his push for “energy dominance” — centered on ramping up fossil fuel production, the exact opposite of the Obama strategy — is key to securing the country.
“This national security strategy emphasizes more than ever before the critical steps we must take to ensure the prosperity of our nation for a long, long time to come,” he said in a speech Monday afternoon. “The strategy proposes a complete rebuilding of American infrastructure … and it embraces a future of American energy dominance and self sufficiency.”
The dramatic change, which comes amid a broader move by the administration to roll back climate initiatives, comes just days after the Defense Department defended itself against charges it wasn’t doing enough to mitigate the effects global warming can have on military facilities and infrastructure.
A Government Accountability Office report released last week found that even during the Obama era, the Pentagon hadn’t taken enough action on climate change. Specifically, the GAO said the Defense Department didn’t adequately plan for temperature and weather changes associated with global warming as it planned new facilities or updated existing ones.
“DOD did not obtain information on risks posed by weather effects associated with climate change at many key overseas installations, which is critical for managing such risks at these locations,” the GAO said in its report. “For example, only about one-third of the plans that GAO reviewed addressed climate change adaptation. Similarly, projects GAO discussed with DOD officials were rarely designed to include climate change adaptation. This is due to the inconsistent inclusion of climate change adaptation in training and design standards for installation planners and engineers.”
The disconnect between calling climate change a national security threat and taking action to combat it is perhaps best illustrated by the GAO’s recommendation that the Pentagon track extreme weather events that could be related to climate change. The GAO called on the Defense Department to track the financial costs to facilities and equipment from extreme weather, an idea the Pentagon said simply isn’t feasible.
“Tracking impacts and costs associated with extreme weather events is important; however, the science of attributing these events to a changing climate is not supported by previous GAO reports,” the Pentagon said in its response to the report. “Currently, associating a single event to climate change is difficult and does not warrant the time and money expended in doing so.”
While the GAO study found that the Obama administration hadn’t fully followed through on fighting climate change, critics of Mr. Trump quickly held up the report as more proof the current administration is ignoring environmental threats.
“This is unacceptable and could severely jeopardize our military readiness. The Department of Defense should be doing all it can to fight the causes and prepare for the impacts of climate change to prevent threats to our national security, not questioning virtually the entire scientific community,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent.
Despite Mr. Trump’s new security strategy, specialists say it’s foolish to assume the Pentagon will abandon all climate-change efforts overnight, as military leaders are still well aware of how a changing climate can affect its operations.
“I suspect that the Pentagon and Combatant Commands will continue to prepare for the diverse challenges they face, including climate change. To do otherwise would be professional malpractice,” said Joshua Busby, a public affairs professor at the University of Texas at Austin who tracks national security and climate change. “Consider that the U.S. military already had to be mobilized to assist in the responses to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, three climate-related events that negatively affected the homeland as well as countries in the Caribbean. My sense is that the Pentagon won’t be deterred by this high-level document from continuing to prepare for climate change.”