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Threat to Bases

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Some experts claim rising sea levels may pose a risk to our national security, with strategic military bases facing chronic flooding...and loss of land. Critics say the threat’s not real. Lisa Fletcher reports.

Key military bases may be at risk, from a different type of enemy: higher seas and stronger storms.

Lisa: There are reports that sea level rise is going to impact our military’s ability to function.

Ed Richards: Sea level rise affects the military both as risks to facilities and its strategic mission. Not surprisingly, a whole lot of naval bases are in low places.

LSU law Professor Ed Richards is an expert in disaster management. He's studied the threat facing our military.

This year, the Department of Defense issued a report, saying the effects of a changing climate are a "national security issue," impacting missions and bases.

Ed Richards: It’s all of the strategic infrastructures where people on the shore live, where the ship stores are kept. Those are all subject to what we term nuisance flooding. But as nuisance flooding becomes every few days you flood, you can’t really function.

Hurricane Michael hit Air Force base Tyndall near Panama City Florida in 2018, damaging a fleet of F-22 Fighter Jets worth a billion dollars.

Ed Richards: And that was a major strategic base for the Air Force. There was another major base very close by. If the storm took a slightly different track, it would have taken out both of them.

In 2016, a panel of military experts and Center for Climate and Security, broke down the costs of rising seas on our military bases.

Among their findings, Naval Air Station Key West. By 2070, high tides could flood up to 95 percent of the station. Portsmouth's naval shipyard in Maine is in charge of the Navy's nuclear powered submarines. By 2050, it could be flooded between 80 and 190 times every year. California's Camp Pendleton, one of the largest marine bases in America, also faces the threat of rising sea levels that cost cost up to $1.6 billion to recover from.

Still - the roots and reality of Climate change remain in question by critics.

Lisa: There are people who say that climate change, sea level rise is really a liberal contrivance and is not something that is real or needs to be worried about. What’s your position on it?

Richards: The one inescapable sign of climate change is sea level rise The rate of sea level rise has been increasing over the last 40 years. So sea level rise is the one thing you really can’t explain away.

Lisa: The Government Accountability Office took a look at how military bases are responding to the rising threat. 15 out of 23 were considering weather and climate change in their plans.

Lisa: How seriously do you think the Department of Defense is taking the issue of sea level rise and climate change?

Richards: Previous to this administration, the Department of Defense was a leader in this. They've published reports for 10 or 15 years. Looking at the risks, both the geopolitical risks and the infrastructure risks, they're still issuing reports that are pretty honest, although there's more and more pressure on them as with other government agencies to stop talking about climate change.

Lisa: Should military bases be moved to higher ground?

Richards: Yes. The Congress right now, House is asking the military to do a projection on the cost of moving bases and that may be part of the next military appropriations bill is an estimate of the cost of moving or reconfiguring bases to deal with climate change risk.

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