Senator Reed Highlights Dangers of Climate Change on Senate Floor
Mr. President, let me commend Senator Whitehouse for his consistent efforts to illuminate and discuss the problem of climate change, which affects not just the United States but the entire world. It is a pleasure to join him and once again call attention to this urgent threat. We know that climate change impacts our health, our communities, our economy, and our infrastructure, but today I would like to focus on how climate change is affecting our national security—some of the points Senator Whitehouse also made. Beginning with the 2008 National Defense Strategy, the administration of President George W. Bush stated that ‘‘changes with existing and future resource, environmental, and climate pressures may generate new security challenges...These risks will require managing the divergent needs of massively increasing energy demand to maintain economic development and the need to tackle climate change.’’
With increasing frequency in recent years, climate change has been commonly referred to as a threat multiplier. Simply put, climate change can and will exacerbate conditions in regions with already tenuous stability. Numerous intelligence assessments have reached the same conclusion. Climate change will have broad impacts for U.S. national security interests over the next 30 years and beyond. In their words, the National Intelligence Council has found that ‘‘rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, higher temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events will increasingly threaten military capabilities and facilities on both U.S. and foreign territory, including military bases and training ranges.’’ Furthermore, the National Intelligence Council identified six key pathways: threats to the stability of countries, heightened social and political tensions, adverse effects on food prices and availability, increased risks to human health, negative impacts on investments and economic competitiveness, and potential climate discontinuities and secondary surprises.
The former Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, has stated to the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘‘where climate change contributes to regional instability, the Department of Defense must be aware of any potential adverse impacts.’’ He also noted that ‘‘climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.’’ More recently, Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked about climate change at an event held by Duke University’s Program in American Grand Strategy. He said: When we look at, when I look at, climate change, it’s in the category of sources of conflict around the world and things we have to respond to. So it can be great devastation requiring humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, which the U.S. military certainly conducts routinely. In fact, I can’t think of a year since I’ve been on active duty that we haven’t conducted at least one operation in the Pacific along those lines due to extreme weather in the Pacific. And then, when you look at source of conflict—shortages of water and those kind of things—those are all sources of conflict. So, it is very much something that we take into account in our planning as we anticipate when, where and how we may be engaged in the future and what capabilities we should have.
The Department of Defense has already observed many negative impacts to readiness and resources due to extreme weather as a result of climate change. The Congressional Budget Office has concluded ‘‘costs associated with hurricane damage will increase more rapidly than the economy will grow’’—$39 billion annually by 2075. In 2017, the Government Accountability Office found that ‘‘weather effects associated with climate change pose operational and budgetary risks’’ to the Department of Defense. The GAO also found that ‘‘even without knowing precisely how or when the climate will change—[DOD] knows it must build resilience into its policies, programs, and operations in a thoughtful and cost-effective way.’’ Last year, the Pentagon also submitted its screening level vulnerability assessment surveys to Congress. It found that roughly half of all military installations that responded stated they had experienced adverse impacts from climate change: damage from high winds, flooding due to storm surge and non-storm surge events, extreme temperatures, droughts, and wildfires. However, that figure is likely much higher because the other half of military installations around the globe didn’t even respond to the survey. Oddly enough, those military installations that said they had not experienced negative impacts from climate change were very close to other installations, which said they had. Clearly, this is a broad problem for our military.
The Department’s most recent report on climate change was like an introductory primer and carried about as much value as a phonebook. It failed to provide many required elements, such as a top 10 list of the most vulnerable installations from each military service. Instead, the report focused on 79 installations important for mission assurance and found that about two thirds of them are—in their words— ‘‘vulnerable to current or future recurrent flooding [and] more than half are vulnerable to current or future drought, and wildfires.’’ Perhaps the most recent and highprofile impacts occurred this month when a particular type of storm in the Midwest, called a bomb cyclone, left at least one-third of Offutt Air Force Base underwater from flooding. Just a few months ago, Hurricane Michael made a direct hit on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was only shortly after the astonishing 1,000-year event of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, which caused severe damage at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. In other words, the amount of observed rain during Hurricane Florence had a 1- in-100 chance of occurring each year. While initial reporting indicated at Tyndall that roughly 17 F–22s were destroyed or severely damaged after being left at the base during Hurricane Michael, fortunately, the actual damage to aircraft turned out to be minimal. However, the fact that over a dozen advanced fighters costing roughly $130 million per aircraft had to be abandoned in the first place is a fundamental flaw in readiness and aircraft maintenance. Despite the minimal damage to aircraft, the projected cost to rebuild Tyndall is still roughly $4.1 billion. The underlying issue that must be addressed is that hangars and other facilities are not adequately designed and built to withstand an increased trend of heavy winds above 130 miles per hour or other extreme weather. Meanwhile, the estimated cost to rebuild what was at Camp Lejeune—according to the Commandant of the Marine Corps—is roughly $3.7 billion. Fortunately, at Camp Lejeune, several hangars survived and did not flood. This is because they were appropriately designed in the first place. These glaring examples of Offutt Air Force Base, Tyndall Air Force Base, and Camp Lejeune clearly demonstrate that we must plan for climate adaptation now or we will pay much, much more in the future. General Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, recently wrote to the Secretary of the Navy saying that the Marine Corps ‘‘faces fiscal challenges without precedent’’ given that ‘‘Hurricane Florence damage is negatively impacting Marine Corps readiness.’’ To put some of that in context, the Commandant said the ‘‘total recovery cost is 9 percent of our annual budget; the building repair cost is 150 percent of our total annual building repair budget; and the building replacement cost is four years’ worth of non-Guam MILCON.’’ The Commandant closed the letter by warning that the next hurricane season is only 3 months away.
Beyond these most recent events, climate change continues to cost DOD significant resources, measured in taxpayer funding and negative impacts on readiness. In 2017, the trio of hurricanes—Maria, Irma, and Harvey—cost the Department over $1.3 billion in military construction and facilities sustainment restoration and modernization alone. Hurricane Harvey was the third 500- year flood in the Houston area in the last 3 years—we are getting 500-year floods every 3 years in parts of the United States—and it left four times more than the entire flow of the Mississippi River on the city of Houston, TX. At Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, there were 81 black flag training days. These are days where training is canceled due to heat. That was in 2012. In 2016, there were 226 black flag days. The Marine Corps experienced 478 heat-related injuries in 2013. By comparison, there were 688 in 2017 and 744 in 2016. In Alaska, three locations of early warning radar infrastructure have been damaged and moved due to coastal erosion that was not expected to occur until 2030. In 2016, a 10,000-acre wildfire in California closed the south side of Vandenberg Air Force Base, stalling the launch of an Atlas V rocket. Wildfires also led to training range closures for multiple months in North Carolina, South Carolina, Idaho, Florida, and New Mexico. In Arizona last summer, a heat wave caused 40 flights to be canceled, with clear implications for DOD aircraft, ships, and vehicles that must be able to continue to operate in extreme hot and cold temperatures. Yet current adaptation measures attempted by DOD have yet to be comprehensive or entirely successful. In what could be the beginning of a startling trend, the Air Force recently had to cancel a fiscal year 2018 military construction project in Alaska due to ‘‘thawing permafrost under the existing facility causing significant settling’’ with the facility foundation. Warming Arctic temperatures at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland have caused extensive airfield pavement repairs at a cost of over $30 million, which is roughly the cost of one Army Combat Training Center rotation. So instead of getting brigades down to Ft. Irwin for the training exercises they need, we are going to have to repave and repave bases that are exposed to some of these climate effects. Meanwhile, melting ice caps continue to open up new sea lanes in the Arctic—a topic that the Presiding Officer knows better than anyone else in this body—increasing commercial traffic and prompting several countries, including Russia, to vie for influence and control over the region. Notably, the current force structure of the Navy is not adequately postured to respond and operate in the Arctic, and the GAO recently found that even the Navy admits ‘‘significant limitations for operating surface ships in the Arctic.’’
Protecting our national security requires tough decisions that are made through a careful evaluation of risks, which, as I have described, must include the real risks posed by climate change. I am concerned by many actions coming by the current administration, not only to downplay these risks but also to actively undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. Instead of heeding the warnings of scientists, including those from the 13 Federal Agencies that worked on the ‘‘National Climate Assessment,’’ the administration is working to create a climate security panel led by a noted climate denier to contradict these warnings. I will continue—and I know others will continue—fighting any efforts to cast doubt on the fact that climate change is real and that it is humancaused. We need to be able to acknowledge these basic facts so that we can quickly come together to work toward meaningful solutions.
Again, let me thank Senator Whitehouse for inviting me to join him today to highlight the impacts of climate change on national security. The dangers of inaction are many, and as ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, I will be continuing to sound the alarm on this critical issue. I have tried to emphasize the effects of climate change on our training facilities, on our bases here in the United States, and on our regions that are close by, where we prepare our forces to be sent overseas. But if you look overseas in areas that are suffering drought, in areas where agricultural land is diminishing, and in areas where farming used to be the mainstay of the population and now has disappeared and the population is unemployed, if you look at places like Pakistan, which has significant environmental problems, significant financial problems, and significant problems with terrorist organizations, if you look in thousands of places around the globe, those are real threats that are being accelerated by climate change that our military will have to adapt and adjust to.
This is a multiphase issue. We have to take steps here at home to preserve our training bases and to make sure that our airfields can operate in all types of weather so that we can have the Marine Corps facilities in Camp Lejeune in A–1 condition. It is the major force-generating position for the Marine Corps on the Atlantic coast. We have to be able to do that. That is just part of the problem. The other part of the problem is the potential for conflict overseas. In many countries, it is accelerating because they are losing their quality of life, their economic ability, and all these things. There is drought, severe weather, hurricanes, and storms. There was huge cyclonic activity just reported last week in parts of Africa. That is causing disruption for families, death, and a host of problems that are causing not particularly stable governments to become less stable. This is an issue that we must address. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in order to provide the resources and the direction to do that. I yield the floor.