Federal scientist, defense officials join forces to relay how the US is “losing ground” in combating climate change

Virginia Burkett (USGS) speaks to the congressional briefing attendees in Washington, DC on May 22. (Credit: Terence Houston)

Virginia Burkett (USGS) speaks to the congressional briefing attendees in Washington, DC on May 22. Credit, Terence Houston.

A panel of domestic federal agency personnel and military officials discussed the various impacts of climate change in the Southeastern United States (US). Each entity is currently working to address climate change impacts. Entitled “Losing Ground: Managing Climate Risks in the Southeast,” the congressional briefing was sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Representing the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Chief Scientist for Global Change Virginia Burkett referenced three key findings from the recently released third “National Climate Assessment” report for the Southeastern US:

1) Sea level rises poses widespread threats to ecosystems, infrastructure and the regional economy

2) Increasing temperatures will increase in frequency, intensity and duration in ways that will affect public health, infrastructure, energy and agriculture

3) Decreased water availability exacerbated by population growth and land-use change will increase water competition, affecting the region’s economy and ecosystems. Her presentation included visuals of coastal areas that are now largely underwater that were not several decades ago.

Roger Natsuhara, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy for Installations and Environment with the Department of Navy discussed his experiences at Camp Pendleton, a military base in California. He noted that due to water shortages and increasing dryness in the region, military resources are more frequently used to aid in regional wildfire suppression efforts. He also mentioned an interesting residual effect of climate change from the drought. Natsuhara relayed how dried cropland that attracts insect life also attracts birds that feed on the animals. The increase of bird populations and the possibility of bird strikes have consequently disrupted flight training programs at the military base. Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety, and have caused several accidents with human casualties.

Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, Deputy Oceanographer of the Navy discussed climate change impacts on warfare. As an example, he cited how the conflict in Syria is spurred in part by drought the country is currently experiencing. He also stated that the US is currently partnering with allied nations to improve their response capacity to climate change. With respect to tackling climate change, he wanted briefing attendees to know “The navy is acting!” He asserted, however, that support is needed from Congress.

Robert Kafalenos, Environmental Protection Specialist with the Federal Highway Administration elaborated on techniques his agency is taking to adapt to climate change, which include helping communities identify roadways, bridges and other infrastructure points that are most vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. He stated that climate change exacerbates maintenance cycles for infrastructure and leads to higher repair costs.  He asserted that improving infrastructure resiliency to climate change and implementing “proactive strategies vs. reacting to a disaster’” can save funding in the long-term.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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