Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday issued a call to arms to the military to confront climate change, as rising sea levels and other threats could impair the military's operations and "sow the seeds of instability... from the spread of infectious diseases to spurring armed conflicts."
Addressing the Pentagon's new report on the issue at the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas in Peru, Hagel said the Defense Department and other military services must start creating plans to deal with the possible effects of climate change on more than 7,000 bases and facilities around the world. Hagel expressed concern that rising sea levels could damage the military's regional training ranges and critical equipment. "Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed," he said.
"Climate change is a 'threat multiplier' because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today... and to produce new challenges in the future," Hagel said. "We must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change, and we must be pro-active in addressing them."
"The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere," he said. "Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline and trigger waves of mass migration."
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But the Associated Press notes that the military is a major contributor to climate change itself, and that reducing its carbon footprint will not be as simple as Hagel describes. The AP reports:
[A]ccording to a federal greenhouse gas inventory, the department was responsible for 71 percent of the federal government's carbon footprint in 2010, producing 95.4 million tons of carbon dioxide. That put the military's footprint at about the same size as that of the entire country of Chile.
The greenhouse gas report said that more than 60 percent of the Pentagon's carbon footprint cannot be reduced easily.
Hagel's statements come amid ongoing debates in Congress over the extent of climate change and as numerous scientific and geological organizations release their own reports detailing the effects that global warming and rising sea levels have already had on the planet. In the U.S., flood risks in coastal cities will increase dramatically within just 15 years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Meanwhile, melting ice caps in the Arctic are spurring increased competition and activity among oil and gas drilling giants and opening spaces in the waters for military exercises and transit.