Monday, March 9, 2015
U.S. Navy well-positioned to tackle climate change
Lynn Edward Weaver, Florida Today, Mar. 8
In recent years, the U.S. Navy has emerged as one of the most forceful advocates for climate action – and, specifically, for new low-carbon energy technology.
This should come as no surprise, considering the Navy’s history of leadership in framing energy change in terms of national security. Sixty years ago, the Navy pioneered nuclear power as a propulsion source so that submarines and aircraft carriers could run for many months at sea without refueling. Commercial use of nuclear power for electricity production came next.
Today, climate action – as a way of escaping the most catastrophic consequences of global warming and ensuring the future for our children and grandchildren – is on the Navy’s agenda. This would seem, at first glance, an impossibly difficult task. Until, that is, you consider the phenomenal success of the Nuclear Navy.
Since the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, put out to sea in 1955, transmitting the historic message, “under way on nuclear power,” the Navy has logged more than 5,400 reactor years of operations and traveled more than 130 million miles on nuclear energy, without a reactor accident. None of the more than a 100,000 people who have served aboard the Navy’s nuclear-powered vessels has ever been harmed by radiation.
Much of the credit for this stellar safety record goes to the men and women of the Nuclear Navy, many of whom have gone on to become reactor operators at the nation’s nuclear power plants and some taking leadership positions. A case in point: Adm. Eugene Wilkinson. Following his retirement from the Navy, Wilkinson, the first commander of the USS Nautilus, became the first president of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which plays a key role in ensuring nuclear plant safety.
Now the United States has an obligation to mount a battle against climate change that is second to none, and specifically to involve the military. Since 2010, the Navy has seen climate change as a risk to the nation’s national security. A Department of Defense planning document singled out climate change and energy security as “prominent military vulnerabilities,” noting that climate change in particular is an “accelerant of instability and conflict.” In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama spoke about climate change in a military context. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” he said. “We should act like it.”
Most worrisome is rising sea levels and severe storm surges. Atmospheric scientists say that if the melting of Greenland and West Antarctica continues to accelerate at current rates, sea levels could rise 7 feet by 2100. Nearly every naval and Air Force base on the East Coast is seen as vulnerable, and some could be severely compromised within 25 years. The Department of Defense is examining its more than 700 coastal installations and sites to determine which bases are most at risk. Eventually, some may have to close or relocate.
The Navy anticipates that the opening of the Arctic Sea as sea ice disappears will require more patrols in harsh conditions. And marine forces could face more challenges in responding to an increase in crises following disasters such as cyclones and floods that slam the tropics.
“The political and social upheaval we’re likely to see from our rapidly warming planet,” Adm. Samuel Locklear III, who is in charge of all U.S. armed forces in the Pacific, said recently “is probably the most likely thing that ... will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”
What could turn this dangerous situation around? Let’s put climate action high on the nation’s agenda, as the Navy has done with zero-carbon nuclear technology, using zero-carbon emission energy technologies as much as possible.