Former military officials call for climate security plan, Arctic research
Calls for a High Arctic Research Center in response to climate change could have significant benefits for Alaska, according to a former security analyst.
"For the military, they're really concerned about things like installations," said Chad Briggs, Director of Public Policy and Administration for the University of Alaska Anchorage's College of Business and Public Policy. "If you have installations that are built on permafrost and that's going to be melting. If you have wildfires that are going to be affecting energy lines. Whether they have to be protecting pipelines or power lines. It affects sort of how they're going to be planning for the future."
Briggs was head of the U.S. Air Force's Minerva Research Initiative from 2010 to 2012. The program, run by the U.S. Deptartment of Defense, is university-based and focuses on improving security intelligence.
"We just noticed from all that research scientists were telling us that the effects of climate change were accelerating, that it wasn't going to be something that was far off in the future, but we were going to see them here and now, especially in the Arctic," Briggs said.
Last month, an intergovernmental panel of the United Nations published a special report on climate change, with specific warnings about melting permafrost and sea ice in the Arctic. Both of those effects impact how the U.S. military will manage its resources in the Arctic, according to Briggs.
2016 marked a milestone for the Northwest Passage. For the first time, a cruise ship successfully navigated through the waters of the Arctic Ocean to reach Greenland.
"Most people don't think of a Norwegian cruise liner showing up in Unalaska as a security risk, but services like the U.S. Coast Guard are responsible for the safety of those people," Briggs said. "[...] If you have any problems that happen, say, hundreds or even thousands of miles off the Alaskan coast, we don't really have the resources to respond to those emergencies."
Globally, the former military officials say that climate change is a security threat because it multiplies and complicates existing security threats.
"For example, whether it's in Guatemala or whether it's in central Africa, if you have droughts that are forcing farmers out of the area, not only does that create immigration pressures against, whether it's the southern U.S. border or Europe, but other groups then move in," said Briggs.
Briggs notes that instability of that kind may impact how military members at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are deployed.
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