(Full disclosure, I am partially funded for my graduate studies through the Department of Defense NDSEG fellowship. This article (and this blog) are not endorsed by anyone, including the DoD. The thoughts and opinions below are my own or properly credited to the appropriate source. Reading on, and reading the linked Climate Roadmap may also help you with your own NDSEG application).
Earlier this week, some people in a large, 5 sided building (below), in a federal district that contains the seat of our government and approx. 700,000 people (but still no voting members of congress…), released a statement that probably surprised a few people.
The DoD (Department on Defense) is speaking out about threats to national security caused by a changing climate. The DoD is generally responsible for things like the US military, as well as national security. You can read more about what they say about climate change (and what it means politically), here. In summary, the DoD has been working with some of its internal committees on this subject for several years. They have actually drafted a “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.” You may suspect that this report is all about how things like sea level rise will effect US military bases worldwide, but that is not the case. While sea level rise is part of the equation, the DoD is also worried about more flooding and more frequent storms (aka: more disaster relief), thawing permafrost and the opening of arctic shipping channels (more of a DoD presence in the arctic would be required), instability among other nations (drought, intense heat, intense cold, etc… may disrupt economies and/or lead to social or political instability), and damage to environments and ecosystems in and around bases (which they are required to attempt to conserve to the best of their abilities (hence my funding and funding for large scale ecological research at bases such as Camp Lejuene in North Carolina). All of these threats and problems are real and tangible, so it is not surprising to see the DoD attempt to address them. It should be pointed out that the funding required to execute the afore mentioned Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap has not been worked out yet, but it seems possible that some of the defense budget ($575 billion in 2015), may go toward preparing for, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
Now, it might be a little bit of stretch to say that climate change is the reason ISIS is currently so active. It may also be a stretch to blame climate change for the spread of ebola. However, these two buzz worthy events (as well as things like the polar vortex, superstorm Sandy, and the California drought) are all possible (and probable) indicators of a changing climate system. The social impacts of climate change (ie: drought= fewer/no crops= extremist action) is obviously a bit of a stretch, but it is possible (and logical) that there is a link there. In times of strife uprising can occur (good or bad). I don’t want to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist, so I’ll stop there. If you want to read about how climate change may be impacting the spread ebola read these articles: 1 and 2 (tl;dr climate change will affect disease outbreaks worldwide and may be playing a role here, but it’s complicated).
Now that we’ve gone down that rabbit hole, let’s work our way back out to the big picture and talk about what the DoD plan means. It means that a government agency is prioritizing climate as a major concern and actually trying to proactively do something about it. We aren’t cutting emissions with this proposal, but at least we are seeing admission that climate is something to actually worry about and for once, a department is making an actual plan to mitigate damages. This is coming from a country where a significant portion of the population still “believes” that climate change doesn’t exist. This includes a large portion of elected officials. We also have articles like this one floating around. Admittedly, adaptation (and acclimation) are things we do quite well as a species, but not every species can do that, and we are very likely going to be unable to adapt as quickly as the changes are occurring. Saying differently involved a lack of understanding of genetics and geologic time. Seeing The Pentagon make a decisive public comment and then publish an actual plan shows that maybe we are starting to see action on climate in spite of the political turmoil. I really don’t want to get into that, but as I’ve said a million times. I wish that it was not a political issue. It has nothing to do with budget cuts, wanting money for pet project, or taxes. The issue at heart is the health and well being of the world’s people. Now, we can’t prevent all people from being in harm’s way. However, we can try to lessen the impacts of a global issue that is the fault of no one but ourselves. Humans should be trying to solve the ultimate human caused problem. I see this as a good, positive step toward America trying to do its part. Let’s hope it continues as we are facing the hottest year in the last 4,000 years on this planet and the slope of the temperature increase is higher than any other time in recorded history. The NYT just published a very informative article about this topic.
I’ll leave you with one last little helpful bit. It’s very important to look at long term trends when considering all of this. One of the best analogies I’ve heard is that of a dog and his/her owner taking a walk. The dog will wander all over the place, but the human is likely to walk in a consistent direction. I found this awesome video of that analogy today. Take a look and feel free to share (credit: Slate.com).