SOUTHCOM Fosters a Hurricane of Ideas on Climate Change and the Military

SOUTHCOM Fosters a Hurricane of Ideas on Climate Change and the Military

By Dialogo
August 22, 2012

With melting glaciers, furious hurricanes and implacable droughts under the magnifying glass, military, defense and civilian leaders from over 20 countries in the Western Hemisphere are gathering in Miami to brainstorm solutions to mitigate the impact climate changes might have in the military around the world.

Organized by the United States Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Engineering Division, the “Environmental Variability and Sustainability: Challenges for Military Resiliency and Readiness” conference is focusing on topics such as how rising temperatures will impact cold-region installations, the pressure to reduce the size of the Air Force carbon footprint, and how more efficient military vehicles can save soldiers’ lives by reducing the need of fuel convoys that are such an easy target for the enemy.

“While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. And when you get factors of instability, you are talking about security issues that could put our national interests at stake,” said Major General Joseph DiSalvo, USSOUTHCOM’s Chief of Staff, during his opening remarks.

Maj. Gen. DiSalvo stressed that military forces should look at ways to adapt to changing missions that may require different expertise, training and equipment, protect their installations and training areas, and make investments in finding technology solutions to an inevitable problem.

One of the highlights of the first day of the event was the presentation by keynote speaker Timothy K. Bridges, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force for Environment and Occupational Health. Bridges spoke of the urgent need for action and collaboration across the board. “The scale of these international climate challenges will require regional and multilateral responses making use of regional and international organizations. In this sense, the All Partner Access Network (APAN) can foster information exchange between one country and another, with organizations and other agencies that may not have access to traditional Department of Defense systems and networks,” he insisted.

As part of his presentation, Bridges also offered real live examples of what several military facilities in the United States are doing to respond to future and present climate changes. Among those, he mentioned the Langley Air Force Base, one of the oldest continuously working air bases in the U.S. According to estimates, by year 2100, 40 to 50 percent of the installation, including much of the runway, could be at risk for inundation. The air base is working closely with the Oak Ridge National Lab to prepare for this possibility.

One of the most interesting sessions of the conference was the panel “Perspective from the Region”, where representatives from the Chilean Ministry of Defense, the Colombian Navy and Army, as well as El Salvador’s Armed Forces, explained what their countries are doing to prepare for and react to climate changes. “This conference offers us the opportunity to showcase what we are doing in Colombia and learn from what others are accomplishing in their own nations”, said Commander Silvia Rondón, who heads the environmental efforts by the Colombian Navy.

On the last day of the conference, August 23, the discussions will move from SOUTHCOM’s Conference Center of the Americas to the field, at the Everglades National Park. There, among what seems to be a picture perfect wilderness paradise, the participants will have the opportunity to see, feel and smell an actual example of what climate change can do to the environment. The tour will include a briefing on the Everglades Restoration Project, an overview of how climate is affecting the Homestead Air Force Base, south of Miami, and closing remarks by Colonel Steve Williamson, SOUTHCOM’s Command Engineer.

I write this comment when the event has not even reached half of the time, which will be the 23rd of the current month. I think that the contributions of countries such as Colombia, Chile and El Salvador will be of great benefit for those who continue the event in this way. I regret not having the pdf papers of the referred countries