Hagel cites the threat that food and water shortages will fuel disputes and worldwide instability.
By Lolita C. Baldor
The Associated Press news story
AREQUIPA, Peru — Rising sea levels and other effects of climate change will pose major challenges for America’s military, including more and worse natural disasters and the threat that food and water shortages could fuel disputes and instability around the world, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday.
Addressing a conference of military leaders as the Pentagon released a new report on the issue, Hagel said, “Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed.”
U.S. military officials have long warned that changes in climate patterns, resulting in increased severe weather events and coastal flooding, will have a broad and costly impact on the Defense Department’s ability to protect the nation and respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the United States and around the globe.
The new report identifies four things that it says will affect the U.S. military: rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. It calls on the department and the military services to identify more specific concerns, including possible effects on the more than 7,000 bases and facilities, and to start putting plans in place to deal with them.
“Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies – and to produce new challenges in the future,” Hagel said at the opening session of the conference, which was attended by military chiefs of more than 30 countries from the Americas, Spain and Portugal.
Changing climate trends could spur more natural disasters, demanding more military support, he said. “Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains and critical equipment.”
More broadly, the report warns that as temperatures rise and severe weather increases, food, water and electricity shortages could create instability in many countries, spreading disease, causing mass migration and opening the door for extremists to take advantage of fractures in already-unstable countries.
The report comes amid an ongoing debate within the administration and Congress over the actual extent and existence of global warming and climate change. But Hagel, who is on a six-day, three-country trip to South America, had little question about the changes.
“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration,” he said.