Where Does the Defense Department Really Stand on Climate?

Where Does the Defense Department Really Stand on Climate?

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An aerial image of the Pentagon
January 22, 2019

Congress has played down climate change while demanding that the Pentagon tackle climate-related security risks. A former DOD environmental lawyer looks at military efforts to address climate, and political mine fields along the way.

When one thinks of major security threats to the United States it’s pretty standard to conjure up images of hostile foreign armies or terrorist groups. Yet over the past decade, the U.S. Department of Defense has increasingly recognized climate change as a source of global political instability, with the potential to displace populations and give rise to armed conflict.

Climate change also challenges the military’s preparedness, as weather extremes, wildfires and flooding threaten military bases here and abroad. In January, the Defense Department released a report that found that two-thirds of the critical military installations it surveyed have suffered damage or operational disruptions linked to climate risks.

Yet, while the Pentagon has increasingly taken climate into account, in public it has been relatively quiet on the issue under a president and Congress that have largely opposed climate action.

Guest Mark Nevitt, Penn Law lecturer and a former U.S. Navy pilot and attorney who served as the Department of Defense regional environmental counsel in Norfolk, Virginia, discusses the risks that climate change poses to military installations, and the touchy intersection of climate politics and national security.