Climate change may not be an existential threat to the United States in the same way as nuclear or biological weapons. But it does negatively affect military operations both in the U.S. and around the world.
“It is a well-recognized threat multiplier,” said Dr. Erwin Villiger, principal for sustainability at government consultancy LMI. Climate change “threatens the stability of any country and complicates the environment in which our allies and the US needs to operate.”
Villiger said that large organizations like the Defense Department can employ an analytically-driven strategy for anticipating climate-related risks, responding to them, and making smarter investment decisions now to mitigate the risks in the future.
“We can use statistical techniques to the point where we can explore really intricate and challenging questions about an organization’s risks and the investments that they’re making and the danger of potential climate, whether it’s now or sometime in the future,” Villiger said.
The U.S. military’s specific challenges depend on the locations where climate change causes effects. He cites deteriorating conditions in places like Syria, South Sudan or Somalia, where climate worsens the instability by threatening crops and food suppliers.
Other examples include Arctic melt. LMI points out the enormous implications for geopolitical uncertainty, and that China and Russia have declared the Arctic as strategically important. So it comes as no surprise that the Arctic is an important priority for the U.S. Coast Guard.
No less threatened are the U.S. military’s own assets, Villiger said. He cites an LMI study of the F-35 program and its supporting infrastructure.
“As the climate crisis proceeds, the F-35 platform may not be available when we need it to be available, and that’s directly due to climate hazards,” Villiger said. Even in the United States, bases and camps are increasingly subject to the worsening floods and hurricanes.
What to do? LMI suggested the use of data analytics to establish risk management priorities, which in turn drive infrastructure spending decisions.
“When we look at climate in terms of investment, it’s important to assign risk and financial terms to those investments,” Villiger said. “There’s no reason to be unprepared. We have data tools and models where we can predict a wide range of scenarios related to climate risk, based on data that’s been collected by our government for decades.”