The Pentagon must prevent its mounting climate casualties
The Inflation Reduction Act — recently passed by Congress and off to the president’s desk for his signature — includes important climate provisions. I’m pleased with the bill’s clean energy tax credits for consumers, businesses and residents, but (as I told Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power”) I want to see more in the bill to improve near-term weather prediction as a critical component of climate adaptation. Although not included in this bill —because of my military background, in my view it’s important to also consider how the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) should prepare for a changing climate.
I’ve written about this before, pointing out that the DOD’s Climate Adaptation Plan lacks focus on key operational capabilities to adapt to climate change, such as better weather and ocean data, decision support analytics, and situational awareness tools. I’ve also addressed similar shortfalls in the Navy’s Climate Action 2030 Strategy, as well as the missed opportunities in the first national climate adaptation communication issued after the 2021 UN climate conference COP26.
Now, the Pentagon is seeing the damage that can be done by its devaluation of weather considerations in their climate concepts and plans. Beginning in March, when a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey aircraft crashed in Norway killing four Marines, the DOD has seen a rash of weather-related mishaps costing millions of dollars and several lives. These included damage to 10 Navy helicopters from a thunderstorm near Norfolk, loss of a Navy jet when it was blown overboard from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, as well as the tragic death of three Army soldiers and injury of 12 others in separate incidents in Georgia involving a lightning strike and a thunderstorm that blew over a tree.
Worst of all, every one of these climate casualties was preventable. I’ve written in several venues that private industry is making rapid advances in collecting weather and ocean data, predicting future change, as well as communicating the insights and impacts for a wide range of businesses, governments and user groups.
The Biden administration has prided itself in the extensive body of work it has facilitated with Congress on climate policy and action. But it overlooks the most basic element of the Earth’s climate system — the daily weather that affects the safety, productivity and effectiveness of every citizen and service member alike.
Over the course of my 32-year career in the U.S. military, I learned first-hand that our asymmetric advantage against any adversary lies not in cutting-edge technology or overwhelming firepower. Rather, our superiority stems directly from the quality and character of the United States sailor, soldier, airman, marine and coast guardsman. Yet, our all-volunteer force is at a breaking point, reflected in record-high suicide rates, poor recruiting and a growing mental health crisis. Both figuratively and literally, we need to give our troops the tools they need to weather whatever storms they face today and into the future.
Rear Admiral (ret.) Tim Gallaudet is the former deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and assistant secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. 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.