For the US, climate change is a national security issue

Hurricane Matthew hits Cocoa Beach, Florida, on 7 October. Image: Getty.

In this presidential election year we have heard much about some issues, such as immigration and trade, and less about others. For example, climate change was discussed for an estimated 82 seconds in the first presidential debate, and for just 37 minutes in all presidential and vice presidential debates since the year 2000.

Many observers think climate change deserves more attention. They might be surprised to learn that U.S. military leaders and defense planners agree. The armed forces have been studying climate change for years from a perspective that rarely is mentioned in the news: as a national security threat. And they agree that it poses serious risks.

I spent 32 years as a meteorologist in the U.S. Navy, where I initiated and led the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. Here is how military planners see this issue: we know that the climate is changing, we know why it’s changing and we understand that change will have large impacts on our national security. Yet as a nation we still only begrudgingly take precautions.

The Obama administration recently announced several actions that create a framework for addressing climate-driven security threats. But much of the hard work lies ahead – assuming that our next president understands the risks and chooses to act on them.

Climate-related disruptions

Climate change affects our security in two ways. First, it causes stresses such as water shortages and crop failures, which can exacerbate or inflame existing tensions within or between states. These problems can lead to state failure, uncontrolled migration and ungoverned spaces.

On 21 September the National Intelligence Council issued its most recent report on implications of climate change for U.S. national security. This document represents the U.S. intelligence community’s strategic-level view. It does not come from the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change, politicians of either party or an advocacy group, but from nonpartisan, senior U.S. intelligence professionals.

The NIC report emphasizes that the problem is not simply climate change, but the interaction of climate with other large-scale demographic and migration trends; its impacts on food, energy and health; and the stresses it will place on societies, especially fragile ones.

Aftermath of a bomb attack in 2014 in Jos, Nigeria by the militant group Boko Haram. Analysts have linked Boko Haram’s rise to climatic shifts and resource shortages. Image: Diariocritico de Venezuela/Flickr/creative commons.

As examples the report cites diverse events, ranging from mass protests and violence triggered by water shortages in Mauritania to the possibility that thawing in the Arctic could threaten Russian oil pipelines in the region. Other studies have identified climate change as a contributing factor to events including the civil war in Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings.

Second, climate change is putting our military bases and associated domestic infrastructure in the United States under growing pressure from rising sea levels, “nuisance flooding,” increasingly destructive storm surges, intense rainfalls and droughts, and indirect impacts from wildfires. All of these trends make it harder to train our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to deploy and fight the “away” game and to keep our forces ready to deploy.

These changes are not hypothetical. Consider Hurricane Matthew: although we cannot directly attribute this storm to climate change, scientists tell us that as climate change worsens, major hurricanes will become more severe. As Matthew moved up the Atlantic coast, the armed forces are evacuated thousands of service members and dependents out of its path, and the Navy moved ships out to sea. Other units prepared to deliver hurricane relief to hard-hit areas.

Marines from the 8th Engineering Support Battalion, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, participate in relief efforts in New York after Hurricane Sandy, November 2012. Image: U.S. Navy/Flickr/creative commons.

Many of us who work in this field have written and talked about risks like these for years. Along with 24 other retired senior officers, civilian defense officials from Republican and Democratic administrations, and well-respected academics, I recently signed a consensus statement that calls climate change a strategically significant risk to our national security and international stability. We called for “a robust agenda to both prevent and prepare for climate change risks,” and warned that “inaction is not an option.”

The “change” part of climate change is critical: The more ability we have to adapt to and manage changes and the rate of change in our climate, the greater our chances are to avoid catastrophic chaos and instability.

Meeting the challenge

Simultaneously with the NIC report on 21 September, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum, or PM, on climate change and national security. This document formally states the administration’s position that climate change impacts national security.

Building on past executive orders and policies, it directs senior climate officials at 20 federal agencies to form a working group on climate change and national security, cochaired by the president’s national security adviser and science adviser. This working group will analyse questions such as which countries and regions are most vulnerable to climate change impacts in the near, medium and long term.

That’s high-level attention! In the words of a senior administration official, the PM “gives permission” for career civil servants and military professionals to work on this challenge, just as they address myriad other security challenges daily.

Destroyed tanks in front of a mosque in Azaz, Syria, 2012. Climate scientists have identified the 2006-10 drought in Syria as a factor in the civil uprising that began in 2011. Image: christiaan Triebert/Flickr/creative commons.

But we need to do much more. I am a member of the Climate and Security Advisory Group – a voluntary, nonpartisan group of 43 U.S.-based military, national security, homeland security, intelligence and foreign policy experts from a broad range of institutions. We have produced a comprehensive briefing book for the next administration that makes detailed recommendations about how to expand our efforts to address security risks associated with climate change.

Our top-line recommendation is to “mainstream” this issue by ensuring that U.S. leaders consider climate change on an equal basis with more traditional security issues, such as changing demographics, economics, political dynamics and other indicators of instability – as well as with low-probability, high-consequence threats like nuclear proliferation. We also recommend that the next president should designate senior officials in key departments, the intelligence community, the National Security Council and within the Executive Office of the President itself to ensure this intent is carried out.

What’s next? As a retired naval officer, I find myself drawing on the words of American naval heroes like Admiral Chester Nimitz. In 1945, while he was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Nimitz wrote about a devastating storm near the Philippines that had sunk three ships and seriously damaged more than 20 others, killing and injuring hundreds of sailors. He concluded by observing that:

“The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.”

The next president will have a choice to make. One option is to continue down the path that the Obama administration has defined and develop policies, budgets, plans and programs that flesh out the institutional framework now in place. Alternatively, he or she can call climate change a hoax manufactured by foreign governments and ignore the flashing red lights of increasing risk.


The world’s ice caps will not care who is elected or what is said. They will simply continue to melt, as dictated by laws of physics. But Americans will care deeply about our policy response. Our nation’s security is at stake.The Conversation

David Titley is professor of practice in meteorology, the director  of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, and an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, Pennsylvania State University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.