Climate change is imperiling half of all U.S. military sites globally

The Pentagon study directly contradicts the official White House stance on the phenomenon.

CREDIT: Kim Hong-Ji-Pool/Getty Images
CREDIT: Kim Hong-Ji-Pool/Getty Images

A new study from the Pentagon reveals that almost half of all U.S. military sites are threatened by climate change. The findings stand in stark contrast to the White House’s position on global warming and climate science.

Around 1,700 sites around the world, ranging from outposts to large bases, are imperiled by drought, wind, and flooding, the Pentagon study reveals. The report, submitted to Congress last Friday, is the first investigation into the impact “a changing climate” might have on at least 3,500 U.S. military spaces.

“The Department of Defense (DoD) has significant experience in planning for and managing risk and uncertainty. The effects of climate and extreme weather represent additional risks to incorporate into the Department’s various planning and risk management processes,” the report reads.

It continues,

Various studies have identified a broad range of effects that could impact our ability to fully execute the Defense mission of protecting and maintaining the security interests of the United States at home and around the world. Changes in climate can potentially shape the environment in which we operate and the missions we are required to do. If extreme weather makes our critical facilities unusable or necessitate costly or manpower-intensive workarounds, that is an unacceptable impact.

Military personnel interviewed at each site reported that climate change has damaged and negatively impacted a number of assets, including airfields and both water and energy systems.

Those findings run counter to President Trump’s rhetoric. The president has long expressed skepticism about climate change — he has tweeted about the phenomenon more than 100 times over the years, repeatedly questioning the validity of climate science. In November 2012, he tweeted that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese government.


“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump wrote.

As president, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, breaking with unanimous international opinion on countering climate change, and surrounded himself with climate deniers. Twelve of the 24 members of the president’s Cabinet are climate skeptics. That number does not include at least eight senior administration officials whose positions would typically include forwarding, overseeing, and enforcing efficient climate policies.

The administration has also rolled back numerous environmental safeguards, targeted national monuments, and pushed for “clean coal” at home and abroad — an energy source widely regarded as a myth by experts. Trump’s State of the Union speech also made no mention of climate change at all.

Those stances threaten an institution Trump himself has touted as a high priority: the military. In December, the president removed climate change from a list of national security threats. Last week, the Pentagon released an unclassified version of its national defense strategy overview. For the first time since 2008, the document made no mention of climate change.


The move followed years of warnings from the Department of Defense, which has long argued that climate change is real and a danger to domestic safety. Secretary of Defense James Mattis himself has acknowledged the implications of global warming and has pushed for greener security, arguing in favor of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy where possible. In 2016 the Defense Department introduced a “climate change adaptation and resilience” directive meant to provide the department with the “resources necessary to assess and manage risks associated with the impacts of climate change.”

The Pentagon’s latest report is in keeping with that mindset, although the survey was conducted during the Obama administration and not under Trump. In the coming months, the Pentagon will prepare a report for Congress determining which military sites are vulnerable and whether the military itself is experiencing an uptick in disaster relief assistance. It is unclear how the White House will respond.