A recent report from the Inspector General of the Department of Defense says that United States military bases in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic are failing to prepare for long-term climate change.
The report gives a rare bit of public information about the military’s state of readiness for the worsening weather conditions that many expect from a warming Earth.
The U.S. military long has recognized climate change as a threat to national security. That is in part because of the effect that floods, wildfires, extreme heat and other natural disasters are having and will have on U.S. bases and troops around the world.
Increasing hurricanes, flooding, storms and wildfires in recent years have caused billions of dollars in damage to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base and other U.S. military bases. It also has interrupted training and other operations.
In this Jan. 30, 2014 photo, an unmanned aircraft flies at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. military bases in the Arctic and sub-Arctic are not taking steps against climate change, the Pentagon's watchdog office said recently.
For years, laws, presidential orders and Pentagon rules have required the military to plan and work so that its bases, warships, warplanes and troops can carry out their missions despite increasingly difficult weather conditions.
President Joe Biden directed faster, larger action on climate change by the Department of Defense and other agencies as one of his first acts in office.
Inspectors visiting the United States’ six northernmost military bases last June and July found none were carrying out the required planning to prepare their bases and operations against long-term climate change.
Further, the inspector general report said, “most installation leaders at the six installations we visited in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region were unfamiliar with military installation resilience planning requirements, processes, and tools.”
Resilience is a term that means the ability to adjust to change.
Senior officers told the inspector general’s inspection team that their operations lacked the training and funding to start the required work. Some saw requirements for that kind of long-term planning as making up a “wish list” that would go up against competing priorities, the officers told the inspectors.
A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The inspector general report cited Defense officials as saying that the Biden administration has finished or is working on many of the report’s recommendations.
One of the bases is in Greenland and the other five are in Alaska: Thule Air Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Clear Space Force Station, Eielson Air Force Base, Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely.
The Arctic and sub-Arctic are important to the U.S. because of rising tensions and competition with Russia and China, and because rising temperatures are melting sea ice. The melting sea ice will, possibly, allow oil exploration and open shipping lanes.
The inspectors found that the kind of problems linked with worsening climate change are already causing trouble at the U.S. bases.
At Fort Wainwright in Alaska, increased wildfire risks in 2019 interrupted training for two Pacific Air Force groups known as squadrons, so that one was able to carry out only 59 percent of planned training for a period, the report said.
Many of the exact discussions of climate risks at the six bases were blacked-out in the version of the report made public last week.
But inspectors photographed and described some of the issues. These included cracked runways, damaged buildings and roads, and a collapsed rock barrier that had been piled up to hold back floodwater at Thule in Greenland.
The report said of the base leaders, “They stated that their day-to-day focus was on reacting to immediate problems or reducing risk to existing hazards, rather than planning for future hazards.”
The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the world. A March heat wave that increased Arctic temperatures 30 Celsius higher than normal surprised scientists.
Of 79 U.S. military installations overall, the Department of Defense says two-thirds are at risk of worsening flooding conditions and half are vulnerable to increasing drought and wildfires.
I’m John Russell.
Words in This Story
installation – n. a military camp, fort, or base
priority – n. something deserving attention before competing alternatives
version – n. a form or variant of a type or original
focus – v. to concentrate attention or effort
hazard – n. a source of danger