Official: Air Force is planning for climate risks

Source: Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Climate change was a driving force in the Syrian conflict, a top Air Force official told lawmakers last week.

Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force’s chief of staff, also told a Senate panel that it was important for the armed service branch to prepare for climate change around the world.

Goldfein was responding to question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has been pressing military officials on climate risks and creating a congressional record that runs contrary to White House efforts to cast doubt on the link between national security and climate change.

“Does adapting military bases and other infrastructure to climate change contribute to Air Force readiness?” she asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“It does, ma’am,” Goldfein replied, adding, “If you take a look at Syria, for example, most don’t realize what caused the Syria conflict to start. It started because of a 10-year drought.”

“Yes, water,” Warren said.

“And folks having to move from their family farms to cities where they then were not getting any support, and therefore a civil war began,” Goldfein said.

He added: “We have to respond militarily very often to the effects, globally, of climate change.”

At a separate Senate hearing last month, Warren also pressed two Army generals on climate change. They told her that climate change is causing the military to alter its plans in the Arctic as Russia takes advantage of a warming world to deploy radar and personnel to thawing regions (Climatewire, March 6).

Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. European Command, told Warren that climate was among the top “drivers for potential conflict, or at least very difficult situations that nations have to deal with.”

The acknowledgement of climate risks by military leaders is a powerful rebuke of the White House plan to conduct an “adversarial” review of the science that shows national security is threatened by global warming. President Trump and other climate contrarians have long rejected basic climate science, and the administration is consulting with researchers to conduct what is effectively a “red team” review that would seek to cast doubt on the field.

An intelligence community report released earlier this year found that climate change would create “competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent” throughout the world.

Warren pointed out that Air Force officials were requesting $5 billion for repairs at bases in Florida and Nebraska that had been damaged in extreme storms.

“I think it’s very important that the Air Force and the other military services continue to incorporate climate change in their planning, so that when disaster strikes, the impact on operations is minimal,” she said. “This clearly is a readiness issue, so thank you for your work on this.”

At last week’s hearing, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Warren that the military incorporates climate change into its planning around bases and infrastructure because it is an essential part of defending the country.

“The resilience of our bases is very important because we fight from our bases,” she said. “We don’t leave our bases to fight; we fight from our bases, so their resilience is very important.”