Anchors aweigh — into hot water

There are a wide range of reasons to be concerned about the changing climate, as John has explained in recent posts. And because policies to address these challenges involve very large stakes, economically speaking, the issue is mired in intense debate, skulduggery, and deviousness on a colossal scale (despite the very clear scientific evidence).

But here’s a new wrinkle that should be a wake-up call across the political spectrum: national security. And, for that matter, international security.

A recent report prepared by the National Research Council at the request of the Chief of Naval Operations concludes that the warming climate will pose serious challenges to naval operations around the world and require the navy to make major changes in its modus operandi. Here’s the story from report co-author Mahlon Kennicutt II, professor of oceanography at Texas A&M:

‘“It is an eye-opening report and presents a rather foreboding series of possible outcomes as our planet warms and reacts to past and continued greenhouse gas emissions.”

Kennicutt points out that if the polar icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt, sea levels around the world will dramatically rise. Rising sea levels could have wide ranging detrimental impacts on naval facilities now and in the future, the report says.“Arctic sea ice is melting much faster than predicted just a few years ago, so much so that there could be a summer, ice-free Arctic Ocean in a matter of years,” he explained.

He adds that conflict over new national boundaries in the Arctic has already strained our relations with Canada, since much of Canada”s territory is in the Arctic and their claims overlap with U.S. claims. The U.S. considers the Northwest Passage international waters, whereas Canada sees them as within its national boundaries.

“How this will affect U.S. national and homeland security is open to debate, but it is clear that an ice-free summer Arctic will dramatically change the politics and military strategies of the north for the foreseeable future,” Kennicutt said.

The committee also looked at how droughts and other weather disasters play a role in the military”s human assistance/disaster relief activities, such as the role the military played in recent tsunami and earthquake incidents (though not climate related). In recent years, there has been a growing demand on the U.S. military to serve a lead role in disaster relief.

“Especially dire are predicted impacts of famines and other natural disasters on Africa and the movement of refugees into Europe,” he explains.

“Predictions suggest that over the next few decades droughts will be more severe, and so will storms such as hurricanes and typhoons, and this could put a severe strain on the military as it tries to respond to increasingly frequent natural disasters worldwide,” he added.’

As a resident of the Virginia Tidewater region, this hits pretty close to home, living as we do in the backyard of Naval Station Norfolk, the largest navy base on planet earth.  Our former Governor has suggested that the low-lying Hampton Roads region (which includes Norfolk) is second only to New Orleans in terms of vulnerability to climate change as a result of the double whammy of rising sea level and sinking coastal land.

One sees a lot of bumper stickers around here that say “Support our troops.” I do–and I think one good way to do so is to keep them and us out of harm’s way by taking climate change seriously.


[The report is available for free here, if you want the whole 226 pages]

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