The Pentagon’s watchdog office stated Friday that U.S. military bases located in the Arctic and subarctic are not preparing their facilities for long-term climate changes. However, rising temperatures and melting Ice are already causing cracks on runways and roads, and increasing flood risk up north.
The inspector general of Defense’s report provides rare public inventory of the military’s readiness for the worsening weather of warming Earth.
Since long, the U.S. military has recognized climate change as a threat for national security. This is partly due to the effects that increasing floods, wildfires and extreme heat are having on U.S. troops and installations around the globe.
In recent years, hurricanes, flooding and storms have caused massive damage to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base , Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base, and other U.S. military bases. This has also disrupted training and other operations.
Laws, presidential orders, and Pentagon rules have required that the military plan and work for its installations, warships, and warplanes so that they can fulfill their missions in spite of increasingly difficult conditions caused by the increasing use of fossil fuels.
Although former President Donald Trump acknowledged that climate change was a risk to their careers, President Joe Biden took swifter and more comprehensive action to address climate change in his first act of office.
Biden’s emphasis aside, inspectors who visited the six United States military bases at the northernmost point of the country in June and July last year found that none of them were conducting the necessary assessments or planning to prepare for long-term climate change.
The inspector general reported that “most of the installation leaders at six installations in the Arctic and subarctic region were not familiar with military installation resilience planning processes, requirements, and tools.”
Senior officers told the inspector general’s team that their operations did not have the funding and training required to begin the necessary work of hardening their bases. The officers explained to the inspectors that some saw the need for long-term planning in the creation of a “wishlist” that would be used against competing priorities.
A Pentagon spokesperson did not respond immediately to a Friday request for comment. According to the inspector general report, Defense officials stated that the Biden administration had completed or was working on many recommendations to improve climate preparations at military bases and across all branches. They also suggested that bases would be given more resources to help make this possible.
One of the bases is in Greenland and the other five in Alaska: Thule Air Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Clear Space Force Station, Eielson Air Force Base, Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely.
The Arctic and sub-Arctic regions are crucial to U.S. strategic goals in part due to rising tensions with Russia and China and partly because rising temperatures melt sea ice, opening up shipping lanes and providing access to oil and other resources. This is increasing traffic and interest in the region.
According to the Defense Department, “the Arctic is also a potential vector for an assault on the U.S. homeland,” as it is located in a region where Russia or China operate more freely and serves as a strategic corridor for DoD forces from the Indo-Pacific to Europe.
Inspectors discovered that the U.S. bases were already experiencing problems due to worsening climate change.
The report stated that at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, there were heightened wildfire risk in 2019. This prevented two Pacific Air Force squadrons from training. One was able only to complete 59% of the planned training.
In the Friday report, many of the climate-related discussions at the six bases were omitted.
However, inspectors took photos and described them. These included sunken and cracked runways, roads damaged by melting ice, damaged hangers, roads, and a collapsed barrier made of rock that was stacked up to impede floodwater from the Thule River in Greenland.
All six bases visited by inspectors noted the damage. However, five officials at these installations stated that they hadn’t begun to plan for future climate risks.
The report stated that “they stated that their day-today focus was on reacting immediately to problems or reducing the risk to existing hazards rather than planning for future dangers.”
The Arctic is heating two to three times faster than the rest of the globe. Scientists were stunned by a March heat wave, which raised Arctic temperatures 50°C (30 Celsius) above normal .
The Department of Defense states that two-thirds of the 79 U.S. military bases are at risk of flooding from climate change, and half of them are at risk of increasing drought and wildfires.