Wednesday, July 24, 2019

U.S. Soldiers Falling Ill, Dying in the Heat as Climate Warms

By David Hasemyer
Jul 23, 2019


In 2008, 1,766 cases of heat stroke or heat exhaustion were diagnosed among active-duty service members, according to military data. By 2018, that figure had climbed to 2,792, an increase of almost 60 percent over the decade. All branches of the military saw a rise in heat-related illnesses, but the problem was most pronounced in the Marine Corps, which saw the rate of heat strokes more than double from 2008 to 2018, according to military data.

The troops who died of heat exposure are among the most extreme examples of how a warming world poses a threat to military personnel, both at home and abroad.

The rising heat exacerbates challenges the military is facing in some of the world's most destabilized regions and endangers individual service members — and, by extension, U.S. security and preparedness, the Pentagon concluded in recent studies on climate change risks. Health impacts from heat have already cost the military as much as nearly $1 billion from 2008 to 2018 in lost work, retraining and medical care. The warming of the planet "will affect the Department of Defense's ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security," a recent Department of Defense report said.


The investigation found that despite acknowledging the risks of climate change, the military continues to wrestle with finding a sustainable, comprehensive strategy for how to train in sweltering conditions. The military's investigative reports, often heavily redacted, show evidence of disregard for heat safety rules that led to the deaths of service members. The reports document a poor level of awareness of the dangers of heat illness and the decisions of commanders who pushed troops beyond prudent limits in extremely hot conditions.


One challenge in getting commanders to treat the heat threat as an urgent priority is that global warming is an increasingly taboo topic in the military under President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax. In testimony before Congress, generals and admirals continue to flag climate change broadly as a threat to national security. But Trump's stance makes it difficult for leaders at some levels to frame the heat problem as an urgent climate change threat, according to interviews with retired officers, defense academics and current military personnel.

"No one is going to talk about climate change because of the political aspect and who is in the White House," a military official, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "It's a career killer to talk about something in opposition to that of the administration."


Heat has been responsible for more deaths in the United States over the last 30 years than any other natural hazard—more than floods, hurricanes or cold. Climate change is making the heat worse. Globally, the average annual temperature is now about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the temperature of the late 19th Century, and the last three years have been the warmest years on record for the globe, according to the National Climate Assessment, a multiagency federal report.


About 60 percent of the Southeast's major cities are already experiencing worsening heat waves — a higher percentage than in any other region in the country — according to the National Climate Assessment. During the most recent 10 years, average summer temperatures were the hottest on record.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue on the current path, global average temperatures could rise 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, the assessment found. The resulting extreme heat could lead to tens of thousands of premature deaths every year across the United States.


No comments:

Post a Comment