Politics aside, military’s planning for climate change

Is climate change just a big hoax perpetuated by politically correct scientists and environmentalists? Or a distant threat we don’t need to worry about yet?

Some seem to think so. But not the U.S. military. As far as it’s concerned, climate change not only is happening, it’s already creating instability and environmental conditions both foreign and domestic that pose threats to our national security and readiness.

Military leaders are seeing the effects of rising global temperatures in events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. Even at home, the military sees climate change at work in the recurring flooding in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia — site of the largest concentration of U.S. military facilities in the world.

The military is alarmed enough that it’s incorporating the effects of climate change into its long-range planning, reflected in the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap recently released by the Pentagon.

That document — discussed on these pages Sunday by three retired high-ranking military officers — addresses climate change as a reality reflected in rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, increasing frequency or intensity of extreme weather events, and rising sea levels with associated storm surges.

The military’s mission will be impacted by climate change in a number of ways, and leaders need to be planning for those contingencies.

The military expects climate change to negatively affect the availability of food and water in many parts of the world, leading to greater human migration and competition for natural resources. And it won’t just be Californians moving to the Pacific Northwest. It could be millions of people leaving traditional homelands and putting pressure on neighbors for basic commodities like water.

Any kind of instability lends itself to a greater chance of conflict, for which the U.S. military must be prepared.

Stronger weather events could lead to a greater need for military assistance in delivering disaster relief and changes in where the military positions its assets — away from low-lying coastal areas, for instance. Climate considerations could play key roles in future base-closure decisions. Melting Arctic ice could present challenges such as safeguarding new sea lanes and handling conflicts over resources.

The military is smart to be doing this kind of preparation — and tuning out those who make light of the challenges posed by climate change. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is correct when he writes in the roadmap’s foreword, “Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.”