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For the Navy and Marines, weather readiness is climate readiness

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy via AP
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54), is shown in a 2014 file photo off the coast of Japan near Mt. Fuji, on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The Antietam and the USS Chancellorsville warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait in August, the first such transit since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) visited Taiwan, angering China.

Recently, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment Meredith Berger claimed that for the Navy and Marines, climate readiness is mission readiness. She made her case by citing this year’s North Atlantic hurricane season and stating that climate change is making the world a more volatile place by bringing extreme weather events, more humanitarian crises and heightened friction around essential natural resources. Her main point was that the Department of the Navy’s Climate Action 2030 adequately addresses these issues by increasing the resilience of the Navy and Marine Corps while reducing the threat. 

I find fault with this assertion for three reasons:

  1. The priorities in the Navy climate strategy are misplaced. The document clearly emphasizes greenhouse gas emissions reductions over meaningful measures for adaptation. I do not dispute that the Navy should set targets for emissions reductions, but if all human emissions of heat-trapping gases were to stop today, the Earth’s temperature would continue to rise for a few decades.  Also, to realize any actual climate threat reduction, the emissions reductions of the U.S. would need to be matched by China, the largest global emitter — and near-term prospects for such action are highly unlikely.
  2. The Navy climate strategy neglects an essential element for ensuring climate resilience — weather readiness. The Navy strategy aligns with the Department of Defense Climate Adaptation Plan, which defines climate as “the average weather over a certain time span and geographic location.” Thus, improving weather data and predictions should be front and center in the document. Instead, “modeling and sensing” are cited in a long list of nebulous budget considerations, and no performance goals or targets are included for them. In fact, oceanographic and meteorological modeling and prediction are mentioned only in the section on supply chain resilience. This is particularly troubling when we consider the numerous, preventable, operational weather-related mishaps that have recently affected the Navy and Department of Defense (DOD).
  3. The Navy climate strategy is missing an opportunity by viewing climate solely as a threat. Besides lacking sufficient consideration of operational impacts, the Navy strategy also fails to address the competitive advantage that superior climate and weather knowledge bring. We know this from centuries of military history going back to Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu who wisely advised that knowing the weather will assure complete victory. A better weather forecast allowed the Allies to catch the German occupiers by surprise during the D-Day landings in 1944, while a more recent example includes Ukraine’s exploitation of an atmospheric inversion to successfully target and sink the Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva. Applying knowledge of the atmosphere and ocean to enhance the modern warfighting capability of the Navy and Marine Corps should be a core component of the Navy climate strategy.

Berger rightly points out that this is a decisive decade for our military as it must confront the pacing challenge of China and the dangerous transboundary threat of climate change. The task list to tackle China requires action across every element of the Navy and Marine Corps, including smart and sustained shipbuilding, adequate investment in force structure and capability, restoring surface force readiness, as well as reversing record low recruitment.  

The keys to climate change adaptation for the Navy are more within reach.  The recent spate of storm-related mishaps is totally unacceptable. The data, models and tools are available now to not only prevent them, but to also serve as major force multipliers.  Only by equating climate readiness with weather readiness can the Navy and Marine Corps meet their missions today and in the decisive decades to come.

Rear Admiral (ret.) Tim Gallaudet is the CEO of Ocean STL Consulting, LLC. He is the former acting and deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), acting undersecretary and assistant secretary of Commerce, and oceanographer in the U.S. Navy. Prior to NOAA, he served for 32 years as an oceanographer in the U.S. Navy completing his career as the commander of the Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command and director of the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change.

Tags Climate change climate resilience Environment extreme weather National security Tim Gallaudet

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