Published in azcentral.com
Written by: Anton L. Degado, Arizona Republic
Climate change is a continuing threat to national security both at home and abroad, according to Stephen Cheney, a retired brigadier general who is now president of the American Security Project.
"What we have seen today is unprecedented heat going on in the country and in the world. Those of you who are in Arizona certainly understand," Cheney said this week in an online forum.
"We have to acknowledge the risk of climate change. The risks are real and growing every day," he said. "If there is any one part of us that is threatened the most, it's our national security."
Cheney spoke specifically about how climate change in Arizona could affect national security during his keynote address in a webinar hosted by Arizona Forward, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Association of Defense Communities.
The issues are connected and need greater attention, organizers said.
“National security is typically not a top-of-mind issue when we consider climate change," said Lori Singleton, president and CEO of Arizona Forward. "But recognizing the serious impacts of climate and weather-related events occurring across the country, we were interested in learning more about this critical topic.”
The most direct affect climate change has on national security in Arizona is in the state’s military bases.
“Climate change really impacts military training readiness in Arizona because extreme heat is going to limit the amount of time a person can spend outside,” Cheney said. “As a former commander of a Marine Corps base, we have always put health and safety as no. 1. We are going to protect the troops first.”
Training for heat-related hazards
Arizona is home to multiple military installations representing several branches, including Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Luke Air Force Base, Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, Yuma Proving Ground Army Base, Camp Navajo Army Base, Fort Huachuca and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
If a black flag is flying over any of these that usually indicates all physical training and strenuous exercise is suspended. Across the Air Force, Army and Marines, the flag flies when temperature hits 90 degrees and above.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base recognized its first black flag day this summer on July 8. There have been 16 others since, according to Master Sgt. Kate Grady.
Grady is the base's flight chief of bioenvironmental engineering. She oversees any occupational health and safety issues facing airmen on base. One of her daily tasks is reading a wet bulb globe thermometer and reporting its results to command.
“It helps us alert the base to conditions and allows us to try to alleviate any heat stress issues airmen may encounter,” Grady said. “When we do have hot conditions, that doesn’t mean the mission stops, but people adhere to them as much as possible by taking more breaks and drinking more water.”
Airmen commonly participate in the Air Force’s Thermal Injury Prevention Program to learn how to address the issues posed by extreme temperatures in Arizona. Grady said it teaches airmen how to adapt to the heat and still complete their mission.
“Training makes them aware of heat-related hazards and aware of what they can do to keep it from affecting them,” Grady said. “We do our best to take care of our people and we work with what we have because the mission always needs to get done.”
There have been no heat stress-related deaths or medical issues at Davis-Monthan so far this summer, Grady confirmed.
As part of daily temperature collection, Grady also factors in the fighter index of thermal stress. This considers the conditions a pilot may face while in the cockpit of an aircraft.
'Too hot to fly'
Less flight time will be another side effect of extreme temperatures, Cheney said in the online forum.
“Extreme heat means in some cases it’ll be too hot to fly,” Cheney said. “Heat creates thinner air, which won’t have enough density for planes to take off.”
As summer temperatures continue to break records in Arizona, Cheney said flights and physical training will most likely start taking place at night.
“While there are benefits to this because wars happen no matter what time of day, switching to a night model in a training base is incredibly disruptive,” Cheney said. “Everyone in all of the services has families and the whole aspect of normal living gets disrupted if everything starts getting done at night.”
During his years of active service, Cheney served as the executive officer of an artillery battalion in California. The unit was so well known for its nightly operations that one of its slogans is, “We own the night.”
“Take my word for it, no other country in the world operates as well at night as the U.S., but it’s really not ideal for our troops in training,” Cheney said.
Cheney believes the most effective step to mitigate the warming weather and maintain national security is for the Department of Defense, the government’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, to invest in renewable energy and lower its CO2 emissions.
“The military understands this but given certain administrations it has waxed and waned in importance,” Cheney said. “Even if you choose not to believe that human activity contributes to climate change, we can’t wait until there is a 100% certainty. We have to do something about climate change.”
In Arizona, he says the solution lies in solar power.
“It’s so hot in your state because the sun is shining so much, so use that. Use what is heating us up to cool us down,” Cheney said. “Arizona could take the national lead in solar energy because it has the environment and landscape to do so.”
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Arizona ranks third in the country for cumulative amount of “solar electric capacity” installed in the first quarter of 2020.
Beyond the military push to combat climate change, Cheney’s suggestion to the 130 Arizonan businesses, cities and other environmental non-profits who attended the webinar, was to fight carbon emissions from the ground up.
“The average Joe would say there is nothing we can do about it, but that’s not true. Don’t be like the average Joe. Moderate your air conditioning, cut down on power use, there are a multitude of things the individual American can do,” Cheney said. “When we’ve all done that, we can also start leaning pretty hard on our elected officials to make sure they are making the best decisions for our community.”
Anton L. Delgado is an environmental reporter for The Arizona Republic/AZCentral. Follow his reporting on Twitter at @antonldelgado and tell him about stories at email@example.com.
Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Link to article: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-environment/2020/09/04/climate-change-threatens-military-readiness-security-retired-general-stephen-cheney-says/5711322002/