10 Things the Department of Defense Needs to Include in Their New Climate Change Report
By Shana Udvardy
After a dearth of action on climate change and a record year of extreme events in 2017, the inclusion of climate change policies within the annual legislation Congress considers to outline its defense spending priorities (the National Defense Authorization Act) for fiscal year 2018 was welcome progress. House and Senate leaders pushed to include language that mandated that the Department of Defense (DoD) incorporate climate change in their facility planning (see more on what this section of the bill does here and here) as well as issue a report on the impacts of climate change on military installations. Unfortunately, what DoD produced fell far short of what was mandated.
With such a report, Congress was aiming to understand the most at-risk installations and the types and costs of mitigation measures that can help to ensure mission readiness. The Center for Climate and Security provides an excellent briefer on why these analyses are needed.
On Jan. 10, 2019, a month late, the Pentagon released the report. Congressional leadership (see statements by Senator Reed and Representatives Langevin and Smith) were rightly disappointed that the report failed to do due diligence in answering vital questions as mandated by law, such as ranking the ten most vulnerable installations by service branch and estimating the costs of mitigation measures. Experts Mark Nevitt at University of Pennsylvania Law School and John Conger at the Center for Climate and Security also weighed in on the inadequacy of the report. It was therefore welcome news that Representatives Langevin, Smith and Garamendi called for a version 2.0 to be completed by April 1, 2019.
With Congress demanding a thorough revision, what should DoD focus on for v2.0? After doing my own assessment of how DoD's original report matched up with the legislative mandate, here are the top ten priorities the Department of Defense must include in their revised report to Congress. DoD must:
1. List the 10 Most Vulnerable Military Installations Within Each Armed Service
In the first report, DoD focused on 79 military considered priorities for mission assurance and relied on a binary approach, noting the "presence or not of current and potential vulnerabilities" to the installations deemed to be priorities for mission assurance over the next 20 years. In the revised report, DoD must, as mandated, rank national and international installations by each climate change-related impact for each of the armed service branches.
2. Include Consideration of the Marine Corps Branch
We know that the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune was hit hard by Hurricane Florence, sustaining $3.6 billion in damages. Additionally, our analysis found that Parris Island (a Marine Corps Recruit Depot) is highly exposed to storm surge and will be more so in the future. In fact, DOD's own 2018 climate-related risks report found that:
"[U.S. Marine Corps] sites have experienced impacts from flooding, winds, extreme temperatures, drought, and wildfires. And, that "the impact categories receiving the highest frequency of occurrences are training areas/ranges/facilities and HVAC systems from extreme temperatures."
With so much documented vulnerability to climate impacts, the omission of the Marine Corps is glaring in the current version of the report and must be addressed going forward.
3. Include International Sites in the Vulnerability Assessment
In the initial assessment, DoD included just two installations in U.S. territories both in Guam—Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base—which makes sense given that in 2018 Guam was hit by two major typhoons, Mangkhut and Yutu. However, it is not clear how or why other international sites were not addressed given that the report and the legislation both mention a few examples of their vulnerabilities, for example to the Marshall Island radar installation.
In Addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the U.S. military's nearly 600 overseas sites are critical to maintaining the readiness of military forces and represent a massive investment. In fact, GAO estimated the cost to replace these sites in 2014 to be roughly $158 billion. Moreover, DoD's own reports include an assessment of sea level rise at more than 1,700 coastal installations worldwide and of sea level rise on atoll installations. Finally, we know that many of these international installations are in need of better planning and implementation of measures to address extreme weather impacts.
4. Address Extreme Weather Including Extreme Heat, Cold, Rainfall and Hurricane
Scientists have found strong evidence that indicates climate change increases the frequency and intensity of events like extreme heat and extreme rainfall from hurricanes. In the original report, DoD was generally responsive to the letter of the law by assessing the risk of recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires and thawing permafrost. However, DoD ought to have included additional risks including extreme heat, cold and rainfall events given the evidence of damages these events cause, that they are projected to cause in the future and that Congress directed DoD to include "any other categories the Secretary determines necessary." As a start, DoD can utilize their own climate-related risk vulnerability assessment from 2018 that provides a qualitative assessment of extreme weather and climate change-related risks on installations.
A quote by Lieutenant General Norman Seip, USAF (Ret) in The Hill opinion piece "Our military bases are not ready for climate change" on Nov. 2, 2018. He served in the Air Force for 35 years. He currently serves on the board of directors of the American Security Project.
5. Assess All types of Flooding Individually
DoD must assess sea level rise, storm surge and inland flooding risks independently while also including an assessment of cascading impacts of multiple flood events simultaneously. Otherwise, addressing different types of flooding mixes and masks the risks and impacts of rising seas, recurrent high tide flooding, inland flooding and storm surge.
6. Include the Climate-Risk Vulnerability Methodology
In the revised report DoD must include their methodology on assessing climate-risk vulnerability. DoD also must ensure the analyses are based on the latest science on climate change and extreme weather such as the new and major reports including the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) and the groundbreaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 ⁰C report. In addition, DoD has a wealth of excellent climate change-related reports that they ought pull from as well (e.g. DoD's Regional Sea Level Rise Scenario report, among many others).
7. Include a Robust List of Mitigation Measures for All Risks and Vulnerable
Version 2.0 must address the types of mitigation measures needed for each of the climate change-related risks at the most vulnerable military installations. To do this, DoD can start by utilizing the Naval Facilities Engineering Command's "NAVFAC Installation Adaptation & Resilience Climate Change Planning Handbook," which provides workbooks meant to help installation planners both analyze and develop actions to address the climate change-related challenges. For example, the NAVFAC handbook includes mitigation measures and estimated costs and benefits for measures such as seawalls, flood gates, restoration of natural areas and installation of oyster reefs. Ideally, the report could also provide an overview of the types of measures that could be taken to address the interconnectedness of the natural, built and social systems which are vulnerable to cascading impacts.
Airmen from the 821st Contingency Response Group setup tent city at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Oct. 12, 2018. The contingency response team deployed to assess damage and establish conditions for the re-initiation of airflow, bringing much needed equipment, supplies and personnel.U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno
8. Address the Costs of Different Types of Mitigation Measures
Given the estimated cost of damages from Hurricane Florence on Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune ($3.6 billion) and from Hurricane Michael on Tyndall Air Force Base ($5 billion), and given the adaptation needs particularly for overseas installations, it's no wonder that Congress asked the Pentagon to estimate the costs of making installations more resilient. DoD can utilize the cost assessment tool in Appendix G of the NAVFAC adaptation handbook to help define the scope and costs of different mitigation measures.
A recent example from work done by Dewberry for Virginia Beach underscores why cost estimates are so important in planning and budgeting. Dewberry found that measures to adapt to sea level rise could cost from $1.71 billion to $3.79 billion over several decades, but the annualized economic losses of doing nothing could be $50 million in 2050. While a tremendous amount of time and effort went into this report, it is exactly the type of analysis that is so helpful for planners and decisionmakers.
9. Assess the Growing Needs for Humanitarian Relief and Disaster Assistance
DoD must include an estimate of the increase in the frequency of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions and the theater campaign plans among other aspects that the legislation requests. A recent study confirms that climate change is fueling violent conflicts, migration and refugees. The recent 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community again makes the case that climate change is a national security threat, and a threat multiplier when it comes to humanitarian disasters.
10. Provide a Robust Overview of Mitigation Efforts Already Underway and Address Costs
The report makes clear that climate change is "a cross-cutting consideration for our planning and decision-making processes" and not a one-off, separate program. In version 2.0, DoD has the opportunity to provide more depth to the overview of mitigation measures currently in place and what might be necessary to ensure mission resilience. An estimation of the costs of these mitigation measures, at least at some level, ought to also be addressed.
Marines with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune help push a car out of a flooded area during Hurricane Florence, on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 15, 2018. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Isaiah Gomez
A Revised Report Is Essential to Provide Vital Guidance to Congress on Military
Climate change will continue to strain the nation's resources, resilience and our military's mission readiness. The scale of the budget needed to mitigate each of the climate risks for each of the most vulnerable installations will be immense, but the cost of doing nothing will be much greater. The good news is, studies indicate that federal investments in mitigation measures is a wise use of taxpayer dollars and can save $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.
DoD now has the chance for a "do-over" of their climate-change risks report to fill-in the many incomplete and inadequate responses. This vital revision, version 2.0, will be an important contribution to Congress to help members formulate policies and budgets needed to ensure our military's installations, infrastructure and communities across all armed service branches are climate ready.
Our military and intelligence leaders are calling for action and solutions on climate change and recently members of Congress have called for ambitious and urgent action and solutions on climate change. The time is now for action.
The Pentagon has stated that #climatechange is real and is a national security issue. @repadamsmith https://t.co/raOF17aOuC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1547848090.0
Shana Udvardy is the climate resilience analyst with the climate & energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.
Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian.
"We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades."
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came from plastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian.
It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote.
"We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places."
The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported.
The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia.
In the most recent study, scientists also learned that plastic particles were more likely to be blown from fields than roads in Africa and Asia, The Guardian reported.
As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.
"What we're seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it's going to increase by tenfold [per decade]," Mahowald told The Guardian. "But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere."
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By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.
Researchers at UC-Riverside are investigating how barley, a key ingredient in beer, survives in such a wide variety of climates with hopes of learning what exactly makes it so resilient across climates.
Barley was first grown domestically in Southwest Asia about 10,000 year ago and is grown around the world, from Egypt to Minnesota.
Barley's prime growing regions have shifted northward in recent decades as global temperatures have risen due to climate change caused by human extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.
Chuck Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager for the Brewers Association located in Boulder, Colorado, told E&E climate change's effects are impacting the brewing industry.
"Certainly dynamic growing conditions, water scarcity, extreme weather events, growers' planting decisions can all affect both pricing and availability of brewers' supply of malted barley," he told E&E News.
For a deeper dive:
France moved one step closer this weekend to banning short-haul flights in an attempt to fight the climate crisis.
A bill prohibiting regional flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of less than two and a half hours passed the country's National Assembly late on Saturday, as Reuters reported.
"We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions," Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Europe 1 radio, according to Reuters.
The measure now has to pass the French Senate, then return to the lower house for a final vote. It would end regional flights between Paris's Orly airport and cities like Nantes and Bordeaux, The Guardian explained. It would not, however, impact connecting flights through Paris's Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport.
The bill is part of a legislative package which aims to reduce France's emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, Reuters reported. It is a watered-down version of a proposal suggested by France's Citizens' Convention on Climate, BBC News explained. This group, which was formed by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and included 150 ordinary citizens, had put forward a ban on flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of under four hours.
However, the journey length was lowered after protests from KLM-Air France, which had suffered heavy losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, and regions who were concerned about being left out of national transit networks, as The Guardian explained.
"We have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous," transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said, as The Guardian reported.
However, some environmental and consumer groups objected to the changes. The organization UFC-Que Choisir compared plane routes with equivalent train journeys of under four hours and found that the plane trips emitted an average of 77 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than the train journeys. At the same time, the train alternatives were cheaper and only as much as 40 minutes longer.
"[T]he government's choice actually aims to empty the measure of its substance," the group said, according to The Guardian.
The new measure also opens the French government to charges of hypocrisy. It bailed out Air France-KLM to the tune of a seven-billion euro loan last year, though it did require the airline to drop some domestic routes as a condition. Then, days before the measure passed, it more than doubled its stake in the airline, BBC News reported. However, Pannier-Runacher insisted to Europe 1 radio that it was possible to balance fighting climate change and supporting struggling businesses.
"Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside," she said, as Reuters reported.
This is not the first time that climate measures and aviation bailouts have coincided in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Austrian Airlines replaced its Vienna-Salzburg flight with additional train service after it received government money dependent on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, BBC News reported.
The number of flights worldwide declined almost 42 percent in 2020 when compared with 2019. It is expected that global aviation may not fully recover until 2024, according to Reuters.
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Four gray whales have washed up dead near San Francisco within nine days, and at least one cause of death has been attributed to a ship strike.
More whales than usual have been washing up dead since 2019, and the West Coast gray whale population continues to suffer from an unusual mortality event, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."
"It's alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species," Dr. Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a press release.
As the world's largest marine mammal hospital, the Sausalito-based center has been investigating the recent spate of deaths. The first involved a 41-foot female who washed up dead at San Francisco's Crissy Field on March 31, SFGate reported. The cause of death remains a mystery, as the whale was in good condition with a full stomach. The second, another female, washed up on April 3 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on Moss Beach.
"That animal's cause of death, we suspect, was ship strike," the Marine Mammal Center's Giancarlo Rulli told SFGate. "Our plan is to eventually head back out to that whale and take more samples."
The third whale washed up April 7 near Berkeley Marina, The AP reported. The center determined it was a 37-foot male in average condition, with no evidence of illness or injury.
A 41-foot female turned up the next day on Marin County's Muir Beach. She suffered bruising and hemorrhaging around the jaw and neck vertebrae, indicating a vessel strike.
Vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of death for gray whales examined by the Marine Mammal Center, along with entanglements in fishing gear and malnutrition. While the species is not endangered, the population has declined by 25 percent since last assessed in 2016, CNN reported.
West Coast gray whales travel 10,000 miles every year between Mexico and the Arctic, according to The AP. They spend the winter breeding off of Baja California, and feed along the California coast in spring and summer on their way back north. The Marine Mammal Center began noticing a problem for the migrating whales in 2019.
"Our team hasn't responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area," Dr. Duignan said in the press release.
The 2019 deaths led NOAA to declare an unusual mortality event for West Coast gray whales. It is similar to another event that happened from 1999 to 2000, after which the whales' numbers rebounded to even higher levels. This suggests population dips and rises may not be uncommon for the species. However, it is also possible that the climate crisis is playing a role. The 2019 deaths were linked to malnutrition, and warmer waters can reduce the amount of food whales have to eat in the Arctic, giving them less energy for their migration, CNN explained. Overfishing can also play a role in depriving whales of food, the Marine Mammal Center said.
Dr. Jeff Boehm, Marine Mammal Center CEO and veterinarian, told CNN that he had observed an uptick in shipping traffic after the pandemic caused a slowdown. At the same time, the center is less able to conduct research because of COVID-19 safety precautions. And even in the best of times, only around 10 percent of dead whales wash up on shore, The AP reported.
"This many dead whales in a week is shocking, especially because these animals are the tip of the iceberg," Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program, told The AP.
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