Each season the Vail Symposium devotes at least two programs to the subject of environmental awareness. For the last several years those programs have been solutions-oriented. The Department of Defense is one of the more prominent organizations that has been planning climate change mitigation for more than a decade. We invited several policy experts to determine what the DoD was doing and why.
- General Paul Kern provided the historical context that the Army began to recognize the impacts of climate change and how that would impact national security around 2005. Those impacts came in many forms–infrastructure threats from flooding, rising seas, and wildfires; diminished training from increasing heat; operational impacts from climate-induced migration destabilizing regions, etc.
- John Conger, director of the Center for Climate and Security addressed the concept that climate change is a threat multiplier–essentially climate change makes bad things worse.
- When asked about how climate change results in human migration, Kate Guy, of the Center for Climate and Security and currently a doctoral student at Oxford, pointed out that migration often comes from places already vulnerable such as the Sahel and Central American. Drought forces people off the land into cities. When those cities can no longer accommodate the influx, those people are often forced to leave their countries.
- A region front and center of climate change discussions has been the Arctic. General Kern pointed out that the Navy now has a whole new area to patrol which will have fiscal impacts due to the specialized equipment necessary to operate in the Arctic.
- When asked about the connection between disease and climate change, Kate said that both water and vector borne diseases were serious concerns. While not a disease, air pollution was also mentioned as having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable.
- On the discussion of disease, John pointed out that the intelligence community had been warning about a pandemic for some time. General Kern added that the military has traditionally played a role in fighting disease such as their logistics work now combating Covid-19.
- Asked about the incoming administration, Kate would urge an emphasis on U.S. world leadership. John concurred by specifically addressing the Paris Climate Agreement. While voluntary, he too stressed the need for U.S. leadership.
- When the panel was asked their thoughts on the future, John believed we are in for some challenging times for the near term (20-30 years). General Kern concurred with John, that the near term would be a time of mitigation but expressed his belief that people will ultimately do the right thing. Kate wrapped up the conversation by pointing out that climate disaster is not inevitable.