Rising sea levels are endangering many of the nation’s key military bases and disrupting training around the world.
And a threat to military bases and readiness is a threat to national security that should not be taken lightly — not by the military, and not by the commander in chief.
A Government Accountability Office study says that the nation’s military bases are not doing all they should to protect themselves from the problems that climate change is bringing, particularly rising seas and flooding. It also says that the Pentagon is not giving individual bases the help they need to prepare.
Some bases could be moved away from newly flood-prone areas. That might help the military, but it would be a blow to the economies of the communities the bases leave. Further, moving isn’t an option for many Navy and Marine bases that need to be on the coast to carry out their missions. Some of the bases most affected by rising seas are in North Carolina and just across the line in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.
Camp Lejeune, the 246-square mile Marine base at Jacksonville in Onslow County, has 14 miles of beaches where Marines train for amphibious assault landings.
When it’s time to deploy, Marines from Lejeune are often loaded onto large Navy ships from Naval Station Norfolk or the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach.
You can’t move those bases away from the coast. All you can do is make the coastal bases as resilient as possible to rising seas.
It’s just common sense for the military to protect its assets from the probability of chronic flooding and more severe storms.
It’s also common sense to become less dependent on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, and the military has been working in recent years on alternative fuels and greener power. In the long run, such changes could help combat climate change.
But rising seas are a threat already. The GAO report found that many bases are not using projections of the effects of climate change in their master plans. Part of the problem is that the Defense Department is not telling them which projections of sea-level rise to use and how to use them.
Those doing the planning need realistic estimates of how much the water will rise and how soon, so they can make informed decisions about such things as whether sea walls are needed, where to build new facilities and where to put fuel tanks.
They also need to have realistic ideas of how sea-level rise will affect the communities near bases, where military families live and where service members drive to get to the base. Congress recently made changes that would allow military installations to use some of their money to work with local governments. Naval Station Norfolk, the largest Navy base in the world, is working with local, state and federal government agencies to protect roads in that region.
The Pentagon has said the GAO report makes good points and that it will give bases better guidance on which projections to use.
Unfortunately, the job of preparing the military for the effects of climate change is made more difficult when the administration of President Donald Trump — the commander in chief — is doing all it can to deny that climate change is real, much less a threat to national security.