Climate Resilience and Security

By Cynthia Drummond | Courtesy of the Westerly Sun

Withstanding the impacts of severe weather on coastal communities and military installations was the subject of the Coastal Resiliency Symposium held last week at the Narragansett Bay campus of the University of Rhode Island.

Hosted by U.S. Rep. James Langevin and attended by fellow Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the event on Tuesday featured a keynote speech by Rear Adm. (Ret.) Jonathan W. White, president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. He is a former commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanographic Command.

Military installations on the U.S. coast and throughout the world are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather. A recent example was the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Michael to Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida.

“Our military, more and more they have to deal with the infrastructure, the effects of climate change,” White said. “Whether it’s helping others or trying to get in and out of our bases, the less ready they are to go and do missions that we need to do all over the world.”

White said that the complexity and uncertainty of climate change presented daunting challenges.

“Understanding this is complicated,” he said. “The climate, the ice, the atmosphere — it does have a foundation in science, which is why we have this panel here today. All of these processes, usually complex, lead to a lot of uncertainty. How much is sea level going to rise by the end of the century, depending on how much carbon humans burn?”

A five-member panel was facilitated by Pamela Rubinoff, coastal management and climate extension specialist with the Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant. The panel addressed scientific and policy responses to the need for increased resilience in coastal communities.

URI oceanography professor John King discussed the newest climate models and Rhode Island’s own environmental modeling initiatives.

“The recent predictions by NOAA are downright scary, because if we’re tracking high end scenarios, we’re sort of looking at 3½ feet by 2050 and 11 feet by 2100,” he said, referring to rising sea levels. “What are we doing about this in Rhode Island? We have a pretty intelligent monitoring system for looking at coastal erosion.”

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