Trump’s skepticism aside, the Navy is taking climate change seriously

Congress mandates Navy identify top 10 threatened military bases

By Gerald Harris

TAMUNING, Guam — The Trump administration has vigorously downplayed the threat of global warming, insisting that the science is still unproven.

But an increase in the number of severe storms combined with rising sea levels and

surface temperatures are forcing the United States Navy to adjust to the mounting threat of climate change.

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act has ordered the Pentagon to identify the top 10 military bases threatened by climate change for the Navy and the other service branches by November.

The congressional mandate requires the Defense Department to examine each threatened military installation for the effects of rising sea tides, increased flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires and thawing permafrost over the coming 20 years.

While the Navy has a long history of responding to weather-related catastrophes, a world-wide increase in extreme weather and climate-related civilian unrest has led to more requests for assistance from the Navy.

Rear Adm. Ann C. Phillips, USN (Ret), who spent 30 years in the Navy and is now a member of the advisory board of the Center for Climate & Security, a non-partisan think tank, says the demand could hamper naval readiness.

“If you’re doing a humanitarian response, you are not doing in all likelihood the mission that you’re supposed to be — whether that is training, preparing to deploy or actually being on deployment,” Phillips said.

Some of the United States’ most important overseas bases are seeing the effects of climate change first-hand.

The U.S. territory of Guam is home to Naval Base Guam, Andersen Air Force Base and 12,000 service members and their families.

“By reputation Guam has the largest fuel capacity than any place in Asia, largest weapon capacity, so Guam is the base which the United States can project its power to this part of the world without asking anyone’s permission,” said Robert Underwood, the outgoing president of the University of Guam and a former Guam Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

While Guam’s problems aren’t as severe as some naval facilities, including flood-prone Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, Guam has been threatened by warming waters, damage to coral reefs, rising sea levels and diminished drinking water

According to Austin Shelton, an assistant professor at the University of Guam and director of the Sea Grant research program, Guam is facing multiple challenges.

“Not only do we have to think about these local stressors, we also need to think about the global environmental impacts that we are experiencing in the Pacific islands – such as increase in frequency and intensity in storms, rising sea level, and rising seas surface temperatures,” Shelton said.

According to a report by the Center for Climate & Security released earlier this year, 200 military installations participating in a vulnerability assessment have already been affected by storm surge flooding.

A 2008 assessment found that only 30 military sites faced elevated risks because of sea level rise.