As US Military Outposts Crumble Under Climate Change, Pentagon Refuses to Take Precautions

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A watchdog report released Wednesday criticized the Pentagon for not taking enough precautions to deal with climate change-induced damage at military sites around the world.

Although the Department of Defense has previously acknowledged that a warming planet poses a threat to its operations, it hasn’t done the legwork in evaluating those threats on a site-by-site basis, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

And when finally confronted on the damage climate change is already inflicting on sites around the world, the military is adopting a position of denialism.

Among the defense installations currently feeling the brunt of climate change is a facility in the Middle East that is experiencing increasing numbers of “black flag days” when some activities are halted due to extreme temperatures.

There’s also a training range in the Pacific facing erosion from sea level increases. At another site in Europe, more frequent flooding posed a “significant threat to the base’s infrastructure and mission.”

GAO found, however, that officials at a majority of the sites reviewed said that they don’t regularly keep tabs on the costs of increasing extreme weather damage. Because these costs are not consistently tracked, GAO noted that the department “could not provide the complete picture of the budgetary risks posed by climate change for infrastructure on their installations.”

The military did conduct a survey at over 3,500 sites between 2013 and 2015, for the stated purpose of identifying vulnerabilities at installations across the globe due to climate change. But in this effort, too, GAO reported that the Pentagon compiled incomplete data. Nearly 200 sites were exempted from the survey — many of them passed over with, as the GAO described, “inadequate justification.”

Several recommendations for the Pentagon were contained within Wednesday’s report. They included issuing a new requirement to installations to track extreme weather costs, and conducting a more thorough survey at these installations around the world.

But those calls were rejected by the Defense Department, which questioned the science linking facility damage to climate change.

“Associating a single event to climate change is difficult and does not warrant the time and money expended in doing so,” the Pentagon claimed.

“We continue to believe that our recommendation is appropriate,” GAO responded.