The US Navy quietly shuttered a task force created under former President Barack Obama to prepare the military for the impacts of global warming. A Navy spokesperson said the Task Force Climate Change (TFCC) was ended because its processes are “now duplicative as functions have been transitioned to existing business processes; therefore… the task force are “no longer needed.”
Since it started, the TFCC released several reports on the strategic challenges that climate change poses, including assessments of what the melting Arctic means for strategic planning and the dangers that sea-level rise and extreme weather pose to many naval installations.
Its ending in March 2019 was first reported by the environmental site E&E News, reflecting a trend under Donald Trump in which federal agencies closed operations designed to assess and respond to climate change. At first, Trump downplayed climate change, while his Pentagon quietly continued to follow a “climate change adaptation roadmap” to protect against catastrophic storms that put coastal bases at tremendous risk.
Before president Trump fired former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the career military official wrote in 2017 to the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
The US Joint Forces Command authored a 2010 report that General Mattis acknowledged. This Joint Operating Environment cautioned that climate change had become one of the top ten trends facing military leaders. “If such a catastrophe occurs within the United States itself — particularly when the nation’s economy is in a fragile state or where U.S. military bases or key civilian infrastructure are broadly affected — the damage to U.S. security could be considerable,” the report warned.
Retired Navy Rear Admiral Jon White, ran TFCC from 2012 to 2015. He now serves as president of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, and he told E&E News that “The task force ended…. without full incorporation of climate change considerations.” White said he is “suspicious” of how quietly the TFCC was shut down, something that even he, as a former director, only heard about “third and fourth hand” as more of a rumor than actual fact. “It was a very quiet canceling of the task force. Usually, when you stand down a task force, you want to be able to go in there and declare victory.” The task force has also not released a final report of its completed activities, nor has the Navy indicated the exact offices that will assuming the disbanded task force’s areas of responsibility. This news story was not covered by coproarte media sources.
Philip Athey, “Navy Quietly Shut down Climate Change Task Force,” E&E News, August 7, 2019, https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060877355.
J.D. Simkins, “Navy Quietly Ends Climate Change Task Force, Reversing Obama Initiative,” Navy Times, August 26, 2019, https://www.navytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2019/08/26/navy-quietly-ends-climate-change-task-force-reversing-obama-initiative.
Chris Riotta,“US Navy Ends Obama’s Climate Change Task Force as Trump Rolls Back Environmental Initiatives,” The Independent, August 27, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-navy-climate-change-task-force-obama-temperatures-sea-levels-a9080581.html.
Student Researcher: Maria Meyer (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)