Sharon Burke on How the U.S. Military Is Planning for Climate Change
Climate change is impacting the U.S. military in two major ways, explains Sharon Burke in this week’s podcast.
Burke, who served as the first assistant secretary of defense for operational energy from 2010 to 2014 and is now with the New America Foundation, says the Department of Defense has done a lot to consider how changing climate conditions will affect their equipment and facilities, but also their operations.
“The Department of Defense is a very large land owner in the U.S. and around the world,” Burke says. Facilities in arid climates such as those found in the Mojave Desert and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico are already seeing a variety of climate effects, including higher temperatures and drier conditions making it harder to train.
The military has also changed building codes, she says, “so that if you want to build new military construction, you have to take climate change into consideration.”
Beyond equipment and infrastructure, the other important way the U.S. military is adjusting to climate change is by planning for new missions. The Pentagon expects to be called on for more humanitarian and disaster relief operations; there may be new partnerships with allies to help their forces prepare; and new environments to deploy in.
The Arctic is a symbol of the military’s concerns, Burke says. The region is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, opening up new sea lanes and access to resources, and prompting Russia to make territorial claims. “It’s an operating environment, it's facilities and equipment, it's also missions, it's also geopolitics, and a geo-strategic interest,” she says. The region “engages every interest they have and they take it very seriously.”
The Quadrennial Defense Review, the military’s signature strategic document, calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” reflecting this concern. But where there’s room for growth is in this priority trickling down the chain of command.
“There's been a high level commitment on the issue,” says Burke, “but then if you look at how are they actually incorporating it and how they plan for the future, I think there's a lot of room to travel there.”
Sharon Burke spoke at the Society of Environmental Journalists 2015 Conference on October 9, 2015.