Dept. of Defense Outlines Risks U.S. Forces Face as Climate Change Worsens

The Pentagon is planning to incorporate the realities of a hotter, more extreme climate at every branch of the U.S. military, including making worsening climate extremes part of strategic planning to showing troops how to obtain water supplies and treat heat injury.

The Department of Defense is one of several agencies within the federal government that President Joe Biden commanded to revamp climate-resilience plans when he assumed office. The military's jets, aircraft carriers, truck convoys, bases and office buildings burn more oil than more countries altogether.

"These are essential steps, not just to meet a requirement, but to defend the nation under all conditions,'' Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in a letter accompanying the Pentagon's climate plan.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Lloyd Austin
A new Pentagon plan aims to prep U.S. troops for the harsh realities of worsening climate change. Above, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on September 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Rod Lamkey/AP

It follows decades of U.S. military assessments that climate change is a threat to U.S. national security, given increased risks of conflict over water and other scarcer resources, threats to U.S. military installations and supply chains, and added risks to troops.

The U.S. military is the single largest institutional consumer of oil in the world, and as such a key contributor to the worsening climate globally. But the Pentagon plan focuses on adapting to climate change, not on cutting its own significant output of climate-wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

It sketches out in businesslike terms the kind of risks U.S. forces face in the grim world ahead: Roadways collapsing under convoys as permafrost melts. Crucial equipment failing in extreme heat or cold. U.S. troops in dry regions overseas competing with local populations for dwindling water supplies, creating "friction or even conflict."

Already, worsening wildfires in the U.S. West, fiercer hurricanes on the coasts and increasing heat in some areas are interrupting U.S. military training and readiness.

The new Department of Defense plan cites the example of Hurricane Michael in 2018, which hit Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Beyond the $3 billion it cost to rebuild, the storm knocked out the country's top simulator and classroom training for F-22s stealth fighter jets for months. It was just one of several hurricanes and floods that have affected operations as U.S. bases in recent years.

The climate adaptation plan focuses on what it says is the need to incorporate accurate and current climate data and considerations into strategic, operational and tactical decision-making. That includes continued training of senior officers and others in what the report calls climate literacy.

"Failure to properly integrate a climate change understanding of related risks may significantly increase the Department's adaptation and operating costs over time...imperil the supply chain, and/or result in degraded and outdated department capabilities," the plan warns.

The Department of Defense since 2001 accounts for up to 80 percent of all U.S. energy consumption annually, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

A U.S. military focus on more energy-efficient equipment has reduced fossil-fuel use in some ways, and allowed some warships, for instance, to increase range and deployment times, the military says.

But the Pentagon's emphasis remains on its mission of maintaining the military's striking power. Thursday's plan suggests deploying climate-mitigation technology like battery storage and microgrids when that fits the U.S. defense mission. It suggests "exploring"—rather than mandating—steps like asking suppliers to report their own output of fossil-fuel pollution.