Flooded U.S. Air Force base underscores climate risk to security: experts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Flooding at a U.S. Air Force base in Nebraska that damaged buildings and forced the removal of a plane integral to the nation’s nuclear attack response highlight the risks climate change poses to national security, experts said on Monday.

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U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned whether humans cause climate change and has been angered by assessments from his military and intelligence agencies that say the phenomenon poses national security risks.

Last week’s “bomb cyclone” storm flooded about 60 structures including 30 buildings at the Offutt Air Force Base, said Ryan Hansen, a spokesman for the 55th Wing, a unit providing reconnaissance, intelligence and combat support to U.S. leaders.

Eight planes in the 55th Wing had to leave the base, Hansen said, and workers might not be able to assess damage to hangers and maintenance buildings until the end of the week.

One of the planes was a Boeing-made E4-B plane, one four the Air Force has that are meant to serve as an aerial command center in case of national emergency or destruction of ground bases, such as in a nuclear attack. Two E4-B’s were also damaged by a tornado at Offutt in 2017, CNN reported at the time.

Francesco Femia, the co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, said the flooding shows that the White House needs to let the military do its job in assessing the climate threat.

“This is an example of a vital threat to our national security from a climate-related disaster, and more of this kind of thing is likely in the future,” Femia said.

While flooding from storm surges linked to climate change that could damage sensitive electronics and mechanical equipment have long threatened U.S. Naval bases like Norfolk, Virginia, Offutt is a reminder that climate change also poses risks to bases far from sea.

Offutt is also home to Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal. The Strategic Command headquarters, set on a hill, was not affected by the floods, and neither was its new building, expected to open in the spring.

“Given the president’s denial of climate change ... I don’t know if ironic is the word to capture how strange it would be for the results of climate change to adversely impact the president’s ability to control U.S. nuclear weapons in a crisis,” said Stephen Young, the Washington representative of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for investment to protect bases from climate change threats.

The White House has considered forming a panel to assess the science used in government climate risk reports that could be headed by a retired physics professor who believes greenhouse gas emissions are good for the planet.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

While climate change can’t be blamed for a single storm, the vast majority of scientists say emissions from fossil fuels and the burning of forests are trapping heat in the atmosphere and making storms and floods more intense.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Berkrot