The Pentagon recently performed a risk assessment analyzing the threats climate change poses to all mission-critical military installations and named Utah’s Hill Air Force Base as the military installation most threatened by foreseeable climate impacts.
Factors that created particular risks for Hill Air Force Base include potential for flooding, wildfire, drought and desertification. The fact that these risks caught many Utahns by surprise highlights some of the costs of Utah's unwillingness to seriously grapple with the realities of climate change. While Hill Air Force Base is an important national security asset as well as a major economic driver that provides thousands of jobs, the loudest wake-up call should be that the factors that make Hill vulnerable are not unique to it and the state more generally.
Utah prides itself on fiscal prudence and its ability to mobilize in the face of natural disasters; however, our politicians’ climate change blind spot makes critical planning to mitigate human and economic harm impossible. Many states have made great headway in understanding the risks they face, allowing them to plan to grow in a way that minimizes their future vulnerabilities. Much of our risk will depend on where and how we build. As the scare from the Coal Hollow Fire illustrates, building in or near forests increases the risks. Flooding is more likely near our lakes and rivers. Building materials can make our buildings more resilient to fire and floods. Other risks depend on what we do. Do we manage our water resources, forests and agricultural lands in ways that leave us more exposed to wildfire during a foreseeably intense fire season or to desertification when foreseeable droughts hit? Are we planning for less carbon-intensive transit and energy infrastructure to do our part to help minimize climate change in the first place?
Utah has refused to recognize these dangers and has therefore failed to invest necessary resources to provide a more secure future. While the politics of addressing climate change might hinge on the extent to which our politicians continue to embrace denialism, climate change pays no attention to our beliefs, politics or ideologies — the risks it poses are the same whether or not we listen to scientific consensus on climate change. Ignoring the risks for whatever reason makes it difficult for us to get out of harm’s way.
Because its leadership is centralized and mission-oriented, Hill Air Force Base will do what it can adapt to the risks posed by climate change. However, for the rest of Utah, we do not have the Pentagon’s resources at our disposal and are blind to the immediate and long-term risks we face. In fact, those who are most likely to pay the price for Utah’s insistence to ignore what it can do to reduce its vulnerabilities to climate change are those without means — small businesses, local governments and ordinary citizens, but particularly the poor.22 comments on this story
This report from the Pentagon should serve as a warning bell to Utah that our refusal to confront the risks posed by our changing climate will leave us more vulnerable today and going forward. At the very least, the State of Utah ought to invest in understanding the risks we face and ways that we can avoid them. Currently, Utah’s residents are at greater risks than Hill Air Force Base because unlike the base, our leaders are uninterested in the risks we face and unwilling to take efforts to minimize them.
The Pentagon is far from an environmental champion, but it does excel at looking at the challenges before it and mapping out a plan. Utah may not have Pentagon’s resources, but it does have a proven capacity to come together to meet important challenges. We have the capacity to get things done. At times, it has excelled in caring for its residents needs, and even the most vulnerable among us. That’s what we need now. For Utah’s future, this is mission-critical.