Climate Change Threatens North Carolina and its Military Bases


Major General Rick Devereaux, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

photo credit: Max Pixel

The political storms in Washington are not the only ones brewing this fall. This has been one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. With just six weeks to go, we are two storms away from setting the all-time record for most named storms. North Carolina already felt the impact of two of those storms — Hurricanes Isaias and Sally — both producing significant rain and wind damage, reminding us of the threat that climate change and extreme weather events pose to our state and its military installations.

The Department of Defense is well aware of climate change’s implications for its bases in North Carolina, home to more military personnel than any state except California and Texas. In 2018, Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Stations New River, and Cherry Point were pummeled by Hurricane Florence which destroyed over 900 buildings at a cost of $3.6 billion. Subsequently the Marine Corps included Camp Lejeune on its Top 10 list of climate-vulnerable bases.

Long-term projections show that sea level rise coupled with more extreme weather events, will result in more frequent flooding of North Carolina’s barrier islands and coastal rivers placing Camp Lejeune, Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, and coastal transportation networks at risk. These projections come from the military’s own climate data and analysis center located in Asheville, NC.

Despite these warnings, the Trump Administration continues to be out of step with these assessments and the judgments of national security planners. While serving at the Pentagon during the Obama Administration, I oversaw dozens of operational plans and contingencies responding to climate change, a trend which continues to this day.

A recent report by a panel, made up of national security, military and intelligence experts at the Center for Climate and Security offered a sober forecast of how climate change will impact U.S. military installations and future mission demands for units like the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. The report concludes that a modest 1–2 degree Celsius temperature rise will seriously disrupt global stability, leading to increased resource competition in a melting Arctic Ocean, mass migration from uninhabitable areas, fights over water rights, and increased humanitarian response and disaster relief missions for the U.S. military.

The Trump Administration has consistently remained silent about these kinds of climate “threat multipliers,” dismissing the underlying science. During the president’s recent visit to the scene of California’s unprecedented wildfires raging around communities and military bases, he downplayed the risk, oddly commenting that “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” Similarly, Trump’s response to his own government’s warning in the 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment was,“I don’t believe it.” And during the ongoing presidential campaign Trump’s environmental comments have been limited to eliminating environmental regulations and promoting fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the president’s out-of-step statements have dangerously thwarted necessary climate security planning. His administration has expunged the phrase “climate change” from recent versions of the White House’s National Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, a glaring omission that has given security planners grave concerns. Contrast that with Congress’ 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (and subsequent laws) which unequivocally state that “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

In comparison, Joe Biden’s campaign rejects Trump’s marginalization of climate security. The former vice president’s climate plan warns that “climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ that magnifies existing geopolitical and weather-related risks.” He pledges to “commission a National Intelligence Estimate on national and economic security impacts from climate change” and to require annual reports on the same from the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

North Carolinians should hope that the Biden campaign’s proposed actions in this area will continue to align with the very real threats climate change poses to our state, and our national security.

Major General Rick Devereaux

Asheville, NC

Major General Devereaux was the former Air Force Director of Operational Planning, Policy, and Strategy at the Pentagon.