It's not just the military that needs help to prepare for climate change

Climate change is a formidable enemy. It has burned our forests, stormed our coastal communities and dropped “rain bombs” across the nation. Just this past month, inland flooding deluged a key U.S. military base in Nebraska that serves as headquarters for the nation’s nuclear deterrent forces. 

Last year, a hurricane landed a direct hit on a different military base in Florida, one that houses many of the nation’s $140 million F-22 fighter planes. The U.S. Air Force has let Congress know that it needs an additional $4.9 billion in disaster relief to cover the recent damage and the military risks facing challenges to routine operations. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps estimates that recent hurricanes inflicted about $3.5 billion in damage on its facilities in North Carolina. 

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Climate impacts can negatively affect training, maintenance and operation of equipment, and availability of housing for military personnel and their families. Indeed, according to a report released by the Pentagon in January, two-thirds of U.S. military installations are threatened by climate change. In short, climate extremes can degrade our military capabilities.

But it’s not just the military that must prepare for the consequences of a warming climate. Floods, droughts, wildfires, new heat extremes, and more powerful storms don’t just damage military bases, they also destroy communities. As the National Climate Assessment makes clear, warming temperatures bring a new set of challenges to keeping Americans safe. Among other things, climate change threatens food security, water security, housing and public health.

In 2018, the nation’s bill for climate and other weather-related disasters climbed to $91 billion. Despite the growing costs, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE has failed to provide communities the necessary support to understand their risks and identify ways to prepare. The Government Accountability Office, the government’s non-partisan watchdog, has concluded that federal agencies aren’t doing nearly enough to help the nation address the threat. While communities struggle to find solutions, the White House has directed its efforts toward assembling a panel to question the basic climate science produced by the federal government.

As that group wastes time on questions that have long ago been answered, the nation’s vulnerability to climate impacts will only grow, impacts that have already proven they can destroy critical infrastructure — even that of the most powerful military in the world.

Fortunately, leaders outside the government have resolved to focus on the questions that need answering — namely, how science can help communities better prepare for climate change. A new Science for Climate Action Network (SCAN) is being launched by a group of scientists, experts and state/local government representatives to help prepare for the accelerating impacts of climate change. SCAN will provide authoritative data and methods, fit for purpose, to address challenges such as managing floods and incorporating climate risk in planning and maintaining our military infrastructure. It aims to serve groups ranging from our most vulnerable communities who lack resources for adaptation to military installations across the nation that must prepare for damaging climate impacts.

SCAN is implementing the recommendations found in a new report released by an Independent Advisory Committee, including the recommendation to improve local decision-makers’ access to climate science.  Making climate science readily available empowers communities to obtain the answers they need to keep themselves safe. 

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To address the threat of climate change, we must, of course, continue to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The longer we wait to cut emissions, the deadlier the consequences and more expensive the adaptations we’ll need to make. But even as we figure out the appropriate policy solutions to the emissions challenge, we still need to adapt to the climate impacts that loom on the horizon. That means making choices on the ground informed by the best science. Policymakers need to understand not only the risks they face in their own communities, but also how to translate climate science into actions to reduce risk.

As global temperatures continue to rise, it’s not just the military that needs to worry about the threats from climate. All of us do. Ignoring the growing risks carries costs we can no longer ignore. SCAN has started the important work of providing the nation actionable approaches to address the accelerating risks.  

Alice Hill is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. She has previously served as a federal prosecutor, judge and special assistant to the president and senior director for the National Security Council during the Obama administration.