“Rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters, all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said recently at the Environmental Defense Fund event.
The nation’s clean water supply and its strategically placed military bases are also put in danger by rising sea levels, according to the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Navy, for example, has many bases on islands like Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Whidbey Island in Washington, If the water rises around these islands, the navy will have to spend more money on protecting them.
Panetta said there are other issues, including melting polar ice caps.
“We now have problems with regard to who claims the area in the polar region. And very frankly, one of the things I hope we get a chance to work on is to finally get the United States of America to approve the Law of the Sea Treaty, which has been hanging out there for so long,” Panetta said. “We are the only industrialized nation that has not approved that treaty. It’s time that we did that.” The treaty was adopted by130 countries in 1982, however President Reagan declined it due to its restrictions on seabed exploration.
The Law of the Sea Treaty determines the rules, regulations and responsibilities the countries must follow like marine conservation and ocean jurisdictions. The European Union and 161 other countries have already signed.
Panetta said “freedom of navigation is essential for any global power,” at the Law of the Sea symposium, which was hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Atlantic Council on May 9.
He added, “by joining the Convention, we would protect our navigational freedoms and global access for our military, our commercial ships, our aircraft, and our undersea fiber optic cables. As it currently stands, we are forced to assert our rights to freedom of navigation, asserting hopefully, through customary international law, which can change to our own detriment.”
Signing the treaty also would help the Pentagon’s new defense strategy, as it “emphasizes the strategically vital arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia,” Panetta said.
Another environmental change affecting national security is inefficient use of energy, ironically, which is amplified by the military. This is especially imperative given that the Defense Department faces a budget shortfall exceeding $3 billion because of higher than expected fuel costs this year Panetta noted.
“The Army, Navy, and Air Force have committed to adding about three gigawatts [one gigawatt equals a billion watts] of renewable energy to installations in the coming years – one of the largest commitments to clean energy in the nation’s history,” Panetta said.
He said the military will be investing in more than $1 billion in efficient aircrafts, ships and generators.
Recognition of the negative impact of climate changes by the federal government is a step in the right direction for scientists trying to stress the issue.
“The defense establishment and the national security establishment have been really interested in taking in what scientists have to say, integrating it, trusting what the scientists have to say and making decisions based in part on that, so it’s very rational, frontal lobe kind of way of dealing with climate change.” said Aaron Huertas, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who closely follows issues within climate science.