• by David Titley
  • 9

In this Aug. 20, 2009 photo, released by the USGS, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice ahead of the Canadian Coast Guard Ship, in the Arctic Ocean. The ship is taking part in a multi-year, multi-agency Arctic survey that will help define the Arctic continental shelf. (Patrick Kelley/AP)


As Congress continues to shuffle its feet on climate change, other arms of the government are taking action.

In recent years the Pentagon has moved swiftly to debate how climate change affects U.S. national security policy — and how to meet the challenges of operating in what is literally a “new environment.”

As director of the Navy’s 2009 task force on climate change, David Titley was at the center of those debates.

Originally a skeptic of climate change, Titley outlines how dealing with the consequences of climate change is rapidly reshaping the priorities of the U.S. military.

titley_civilian edit

David Titley is a rear admiral, U.S. Navy – Retired, former chief oceanographer for the Navy and a fellow of the American Meteorological Society. The views expressed here are his own.

It’s all about the water.

Okay, it’s partly about food and energy, too. But from a national security perspective, climate change is all about the water: where it is or isn’t, how much or how little there is, how quickly it changes from one state (e.g., solid ice to liquid water) to another.

Because of the effects of climate change in the Arctic, for the first time in 500 years we’re opening a new ocean to navigation. The last guy who did that was Christopher Columbus.

Until 2005, the Arctic Polar ice cap consisted mostly of multi-year ice — ice that had formed two or more years before the date of measurement and was generally 2 to 4 meters (6.6 to 13 feet) thick and much harder to break through than first-year ice. Since 2007, most Arctic ice is now less than a year old and less than one meter thick. Climate scientists now expect that by 2030 much of the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice several months a year, opening it for commercial navigation just as the Baltic Sea is now.

The opening of the Arctic is the most immediate national security challenge presented by climate change. Except for submarines, the U.S. Navy has not operated widely on the surface of the Arctic Ocean; neither has anyone else. The Arctic is poorly charted and therefore dangerous to navigation. There’s very little infrastructure and it’s an extremely harsh operating environment.

The opening of the Arctic is the most immediate national security challenge presented by climate change.

Will the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska start to take on the characteristics of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil passes, or the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific Oceans? Will it become a global hot spot for international tensions? As the Navy increasingly patrols the Arctic Ocean, what happens to our ability to patrol the western Pacific?

The Navy’s strategic objectives for the Arctic are that it remains a “safe, stable and secure” region. It’s a hopeful sign that all other Arctic nations, including Russia, have similar objectives. Because we all have similar national self-interests, there’s a greater likelihood of peacefully negotiating the challenges presented by the fastest changing environment in the world.

When I was in the Navy, we tried to strip away the emotions associated with climate change as a political issue. It’s a change, and just like changing demographics, political regimes and economic conditions, we need to deal with it. If we don’t, we’re putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage — and the United States military never wants to be at a competitive disadvantage.

The Department of Defense plans for everything, and particularly for potential changes in “the battlespace,” the geography in which we operate. With global sea levels projected to rise anywhere from 20 centimeters (8 inches) to 2 meters (6.6 feet) this century as a consequence of climate change, that’s a change we have to account for and plan for.

Since the Navy operates at sea level, as levels rise, each one of our bases is affected. So too are the installations and the surrounding communities on which they rely for food, housing, goods and services. As a nation, we’re just beginning to consider the economic consequences of rebuilding that entire infrastructure.

Winston Churchill is believed to have said, “Americans can always be counted upon to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

The “right thing” with respect to climate change is to undertake a sustained effort to minimize impact on ourselves and other nations. We may not have exhausted all other possibilities yet, but I think we’re close.


For further reading on this topic, Admiral Titley recommends:

Tags: Environment

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  • jfreed27

    Thanks for speaking out, Sir! Not only are the seas changing, but food and water and living space. AGW will stress all of the above, leading to greater and more frequent conflicts.

    Why not take a significant % of Pentagon budget to take up “arms” against this threat, by building wind and solar farms, or even nukes, if safe. We “picked winners’ at the start of WWII, no?, and built tens of thousands of ships, planes, tanks, artillery, etc. against the threat of fascism. Those $$ are needed now to fight this direct threat of climate change.

    Of course, this assumes a rational political process, one not dominated by special interests. I.e. by real patriotism.

    Huffington Post describes a study by 20 nations that predicts the deaths of 100 million people due directly to AGW. The U.S. just spent about $180 B in one year on extreme weather.

    The melting Arctic also spells greater trouble with the jet stream and loss of aldebo, which will “snowball” or accelerate the very changes that threaten us.

    Sir, for these reasons and more, may your colleagues support you!

  • Jack Wolf

    He forgot mass migration and disease like dengue fever. He forgot the massive infrastructure changes that is needed immediately. He forgot extreme weather that will knock out cities. He forgot drought, and yes, even earthquakes are now tied to extreme precipitation events. We will soon need to bring our troops home to help deal with all of these issues.
    As a fan of movies, I picture our future existence will either be like “Soylent Green” or “On the Beach”.

  • Jim Baird

    About the water.

    Dr. Titley, there is a serious mismatch between the water resources of the US and Canada.

    A study lead by Yadu Pohkrel published in Nature, determined “The drawing of water from deep wells has caused the sea to rise by an average of .77 millimetres every year since 1961,” which is about 42 percent of the total.

    A recent BC study confirmed Dr Pohkrel’s finding and notes low lying crop lands in B.C. are at risk as a consequence and further noted, “about half of British
    Columbia’s food supply is imported, much of it from California, which has suffered from drought and is projected to become even more reliant on groundwater as precipitation declines due to climate change.”

    As The Frontier Centre for Public Policy pointed out in a paper Water, Water Everywhere But Canada Won’t Sell It, “the average annual rainfall of 33 feet at Link Lake sends enough water into the Pacific Ocean to meet all of California’s water needs for the next 20 years”.

    There are numerous other sites around the province nearly as well endowed.

    Wikipedia has a section on Water exports from Canada to the US at

    I suspect the existing prohibitions against these schemes would evaporate if they were approached as sea level proposals because: the outflows contribute to sea level rise, pumping aquifers to counter drought compounds the sea level problem, Canadian food supplies are at risk due to the miss match, the damage from sea level rise will be costly, and water sales would be a lucrative enterprise.

    It makes little sense to be drowning in excess while the source of much of your food supply desiccates.

    Furthermore land based photosynthesis provides a net 50 gigatonne atmospheric carbon benefit that will decline as crop land dessicates.

  • Michael Jones

    Google Gwynne Dyer and his book “Climate Wars”, and check out his interviews on You Tube….tells the real deal on the military threat

  • JohnSvengali

    Ruining our economy, borrowing $.46 of every dollar the federal government spends, 90 Trillion dollars in unfunded entitlements, hollowing-out our military are all threats to national security that moon-bats seem to overlook in order to embrace this “religion” of climate change.

    If this is the prism you see the most pressing needs of national security, get bigger dunce caps.

    • Drew Phillips

      Even after “hollowing out” out military it will still be more costly than the next 10 biggest militarys combined. Talk about unsustainable.

      Religion is faith-based, climate change SCIENCE is a 40-year old discipline endorsed by all (as in every single one) of the world’s science academies, societies, and organizations). Doesn’t that mean the opposite of religion?

      • JohnSvengali

        Drew Phillips: Climate science as practiced is a false religion, a faith practiced by the moonbat Left, largely because it comports with their ideology. Hence they dive head-first into the shallow end of the pool. Seeing what the loony, moonbat Left wants to do with this “science” reveals their true agenda, i.e. Marxist control over economic, governmental and international policies with massive schemes leading to de facto one-world government/control/dissolution of sovereignty, de-industrializing us while advancing inadequate alternative “solutions” based upon impractical or non-existent technologies.

        “Climate change SCIENCE is a 40-year discipline….” But common sense and truth are thousands of years old. Empirical method is hundreds of years old. Healthy skepticism is as old as science itself. Alas, you climate alarmists and your ’40-year discipline’ fail miserably in applying common sense or truth. You are mental Lilliputians, microcephalics advancing a corrupted, imprecise and utterly unreliable sham, parading it around as science.

        “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
        Anatole France

        “No man becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.”
        Charles Steinmetz

        Visit and begin to redeem your common sense.

        • Drew Phillips

          To paraphrase Anatole France
          “If fifty million Scientists say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

  • hamilton

    Cowardly. To skirt around it, and play with cute words to imply that climate change is caused by humans; but be too cowed to come right out and say it. It is the fact of the matter: global warming is a direct result of human activity and disproportionately a result of Americans NOT doing the right thing. He thinks were close to doing the right thing? Obviously not close enough for HIM to do do the right thing.