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Top Pentagon official warns that the US military is not ready for climate change

Top Pentagon official warns that the US military is not ready for climate change

CNN’s Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Defense Secretary, stated that “We are not where they should be” and that now is the right time to face that challenge.

Climate change has created new areas of strategic competition, including the Arctic, and intensified the competition to obtain scarce resources such as the raw materials needed to make the lithium-ion battery essential to electric cars.

Hicks stated that lithium-ion batteries are worth $750 billion worldwide. The challenge is that most of this investment is occurring in China. They dominate this supply chain. It’s a significant national security risk for us.”

Hicks is the first woman to hold the Pentagon’s number two position. She leads the military’s various efforts on climate change. Hicks was on a two-day visit to Michigan, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. She saw the first generation of electric military vehicle, as well as an electric light reconnaissance vehicle at GM Defense.

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The Pentagon will follow suit as the civilian automotive sector goes green.

Hicks stated that “if we don’t follow and become part of the solution we will be left behind,” and that our vehicle fleets wouldn’t be able support it.

However, electric military vehicles present their own challenges. An electric vehicle is quieter and emits less heat — both important advantages on a battlefield. However, it must be charged. Although recharging a gas vehicle requires fuel supply lines, it is faster and more efficient than charging an electric vehicle on the battlefield.

Hicks suggests hybrid tactical vehicles as a temporary solution. It is an interim solution to bridge between the future electric and current gas vehicle fleets.

“I see that the future is possible.” Hicks said that although it’s not exactly around the corner, we are moving in that direction. “We must.”

The Biden administration’s agenda has placed climate change at the heart of its efforts. In his first week of office, President Joe Biden signed an executive directive that placed the climate crisis at center of foreign policy as well as national security. Biden wrote in the order, “There is little time left for the world to avoid setting it on a dangerous, potentially disastrous, climate trajectory.”

Huge challenge

The number of National Guard members fighting wildfires across the Western United States has increased tenfold from 14,000 five years ago, to 176,000 this past year.

The updated National Defense Strategy will incorporate climate change, which is due next year. The Defense Department spent $617 million last year to prepare for climate change and mitigate its effects. This is a small amount compared to the severe weather-related damage.

According to a Department of Defense Report, four billion dollars in damage was caused by two hurricanes — Michael in 2018 & Sally in 2020 — at Tyndall Air Force Base (Florida) and Pensacola Naval Air Station (Florida), respectively. The 2018 hurricane Florence caused $3.5 billion in damage and repairs at Camp Lejeune (North Carolina) and flooding at Offutt Air Force Base (Nebraska) caused approximately $500 million of damages in 2019.

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The Defense Department still has a poor understanding of the threat to the approximately 5,000 military facilities it manages around the globe. To better understand the hazards of climate changes, the DoD Climate Assessment tool was released by the department last year. It uses historical data and future assessments to help it. The tool will be used by the department to examine 1,400 facilities around the world.

Hicks stated that once we understand that climate change is a part of everything we do, we can begin to get in front of it and be productive about it.

Hicks is aware that despite all the efforts of the Defense Department in relation to climate change, it can only play a small role in addressing this huge challenge.

The Defense Department did no send a top official to the recent COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Hicks accepted the conference as an opportunity to bring together key players on an issue that is more important than any one nation.

She said that the United States could do a lot to solve this global problem, but it cannot do it all alone.

CNN’s Jeremy Moorhead contributed this report.

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