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Is Climate Change Our No. 1 National Security Threat?

Jul 18, 2019
Originally published on July 20, 2019 5:49 pm

In his first year in office, President Trump removed climate change from a list of worldwide threats against the United States.

But many of his military advisers believe climate change poses a higher risk than ever — so high that it affects America’s national security.

According to a U.S. Department of Defense report earlier this year, 79 military bases, installations and stations are in jeopardy because of climate change.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), for example, has radar sites along the Alaskan coast constantly scanning the skies for threats. It’s one of our continent’s foremost military defenses, but according to reporting for Reveal in collaboration with KUNC, the radar sites are themselves threatened, “not from the skies above, but from the environment.”

Here’s more:

Melting sea ice and thawing permafrost threaten the foundations the sites sit upon. Storms may become harder to predict and surges could bring destructive flooding or other damage in a harsh, remote and unforgiving landscape where fixes and rebuilds can be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible.

The culprit is climate change.

Here’s a map of other vulnerable bases around the country, courtesy of American Security Project:

Key: Installations that appear blue on the map are those threatened by sea level rise and flooding, ones in red are threatened by excessive heat, orange designates drought and wildfire threat, green is flash flooding, and brown is coastal erosion. Each installation is categorized by the primary threat it faces, but that does not mean that bases face only one type of threat.

Retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Stephen Cheney is the CEO of American Security Project. When we asked him where climate change ranks on his list of national security threats to the U.S., he told us it’s at the top.

That’s a question I get a lot. Sure, in the near-term, China and North Korea are a threat, clearly big threats. But in the long term — 20, 30, 50 years out — what’s going to occur because of climate change is far more devastating. The fact is, we know that climate change is happening. We don’t know what North Korea is going to do — what Boko Haram, al-Qaida are going to do. But we know climate change is occurring.

Should the military fight climate change? And for that matter, can it afford not to?

Show produced by Amanda Williams with help from James Morrison. Text by Kathryn Fink.

GUESTS

Michael de Yoanna, Investigative reporter, KUNC in Greeley, Colorado; @mdy1

Amy Harder, Reporter covering energy and climate, Axios; former reporter, The Wall Street Journal; @AmyAHarder

Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, Retired Marine Corps brigadier general; CEO of the American Security Project

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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