The Military, Not the White House, Is Readying for Climate Change
The Pentagon seems at odds with the president over how best to prepare for climate-related extreme weather. Listen to American Shoreline Podcast interview with Dr. William Parker, President and CEO of the National Defense University Foundation, on military preparedness for climate change (Link at the bottom of the article).
the middle of March, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, the U.S. Marine Corps’ top officer, issued a grim warning to the Pentagon on the state of his fighting force.
In a pair of memos addressed to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Neller outlined a series of unexpected demands that he said pose an “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.” Chief among them was President Donald Trump’s state of emergency declaration regarding troop deployments and wall construction at the U.S.-Mexico border. Those unplanned burdens, according to Neller, required an unwelcome shift in resources, forcing the Marines to significantly scale back and, in some cases, cancel outright critical training and exercises. That loss “will degrade the combat readiness and effectiveness of the Corps,” Neller wrote.
But it wasn’t just training that was affected. In an expanded list of “negative factors,” Neller also warned about the scarcity of Pentagon-allocated funding for rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Florence and Michael, essentially arguing that unpredictable weather events and natural disasters pose as grave a danger to military readiness as the president’s erratic border deployments. Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the two most destructive storms of 2018, together accounted for 100 deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damagesthroughout the Carolinas and the Florida Panhandle. The storms also proved costly to Marine Corps facilities in the region. Camp Lejeune in North Carolina fared worst of all: Lejeune and its ancillary outposts incurred some $3.6 billion in damage, with hundreds of structures rendered uninhabitablefor months.
“The inability to reprogram money and the lack of a supplemental for Hurricane Florence damage is negatively impacting Marine Corps readiness,” Neller wrote. “We are not receiving the fiscal support necessary to address the critical situation in North Carolina.”
“We’re not far away from hurricane season, and we’re still recovering from the damage from yesterday.”
Shanahan appears to have received Neller’s message loud and clear. Days after Neller’s memos leaked in March, Shanahan told officials from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force that he planned on reallocating $600 million in defense funding for “near-term” recovery efforts (that is, rebuilding) and natural disaster preparedness. Of that sum, $400 million would go toward repairing storm damage at Lejeune — a “down payment” on future military construction funding, according to Military.com.
“Shanahan’s request for reprogramming is clear proof the Pentagon takes this seriously,” says Esther Babson, program director for climate security at the American Security Project, a public policy think tank. “We’re not far away from hurricane season, and we’re still recovering from the damage from yesterday.”
But this funding amounts to a one-time apportionment and doesn’t account for the very large, very dirty elephant in the room: climate change. The Pentagon needs to put more resources toward disaster mitigation, because extreme weather events like major hurricanes are predicted to grow more frequent. And given the U.S. armed forces’ ostensibly nonpartisan position in American politics, Neller’s memos effectively amount to a rebuke of the White House’s counterfactual stance on climate change. But with a president who apparently believes wind power causes cancer — and who is on record scoffingat the science of climate change — will the memos carry any weight?
In the next month, the Pentagon will provide a list of military construction projects available for postponement in order for the Defense Department to pony up $3.6 billion to pay for the border wall under Trump’s February 15 national emergency declaration, according to a Pentagon memo obtained by Task and Purpose. That’s down from $6.8 billion in unawarded projects that the Pentagon originally offered up for potential cancellation in March, but it still represents a major retasking of military resources.
Which raises the question: Is Trump bankrolling his version of border security at the expense of the military’s own safety?
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Listen to American Shoreline Podcast interview with Dr. William Parker, President and CEO of the National Defense University Foundation, on military preparedness for climate change