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Critique of “Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts”

February 5, 2015

The following text is complete except for the omission of two graphs. To view the complete Policy Brief, open the PDF using the link above.

polar ice caps

The following text is complete except for the omission of two graphs. To view the complete Policy Brief, open the PDF using the link above.


In May 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts.[1] The authors write, “We were asked to assess [the Department of Defense’s] progress in taking action to adapt its U.S. infrastructure to the challenges of climate change.” The request came from five Democratic members of the U.S. Senate: Barbara Boxer (CA), Mark Begich (AK), Al Franken (MN), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).

The phrasing of the request suggests there is no doubt climate change poses a “challenge” the Department of Defense (DOD) should be addressing. This bias is not surprising since each of the elected officials who asked for the report has in the past made alarmist claims about the causes and consequences of climate change and called for policies to increase the cost of fossil fuels and subsidize the development and use of alternative fuels such as biofuels, solar, and wind.

The GAO staff members who led the study are listed as Director of Defense Capabilities and Management Brian J. Lepore, the primary contact, and Assistant Director Laura Durland. GAO “key contributors” are listed as Frederick K. Childers, Roshni Dave, Michele Fejfar, Michael Hix, Sarah Kaczmarek, Mary Koenen, Brandon Kruse, Amie Lesser, Amanda Manning, Celia Rosario Mendive, Anne Stevens, Chris Stone, Joseph Thompson, Christopher Turner, Erik Wilkins-McKee, and Michael Willems.

The following critique of GAO’s study reveals GAO has overlooked convincing evidence that what is called “climate change” is unlikely to have a greater effect on DOD’s infrastructure or America’s military preparedness in general than past changes in climate. GAO also overlooked evidence that shows requiring DOD to invest in mitigation or adaptation to address phantom risks could divert resources from other more urgent needs, reducing military preparedness.

1. Global Climate Models

The GAO report says:

According to the Third National Climate Assessment, scientists’ current understanding of how the global climate is changing is based on both observations and projections reached through the use of computer simulations, using global climate models, that account for a variety of independent factors. …

Generally, the models’ projections indicate that higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses [sic] will result in greater climate change, thus increasing the degree to which the nation, including its infrastructure, is exposed to risk. Nonetheless, uncertainty remains about projections of future changes and most projections indicate ranges of change rather than specific figures. The effects of increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and temperature are expected to have varying impacts in the United States. (page 7)


The Third National Climate Assessment (TNCA) is not a credible source. It relies heavily on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which itself has been severely criticized for bias, reliance on non-peer-reviewed work from environmental activist groups, and subordinating science to politics.[2] TNCA repeats alarmist predictions – such as extreme weather, sea-level rises, and deaths due to heat waves – found in the newsletters of advocacy groups and never mentions the sizeable scientific literature that questions and contradicts those predictions. It calls for virtually all of the taxes, regulations, and subsidies advocated by environmental advocacy groups and endorsed by the Obama administration. It was reviewed and published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, an interagency government body, whose motto includes the phrase, “Empower the Nation with Global Change Science.”[3] The document is political rather than scientific.

The purpose of TNCA “is to provide cover for a massive regulatory intrusion, and concomitant enormous costs in resources and individual liberty,” scientists Patrick Michaels and Paul Knappenberger wrote. “History tells us that when scientists willingly endorse sweeping governmental agendas fueled by dodgy science, bad things soon happen.”[4]

Michaels and Knappenberger note TNCA relies heavily on non-peer-reviewed articles by unqualified groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Southwest Climate Alliance, and Water Climate Utility Alliance. It also uses an estimate of climate sensitivity 40 percent higher than what more recent scientific literature points to. It even contradicts the alarmist IPCC by claiming there has been an increase in the severity of storms in recent decades, and TNCA never mentions there has been no statistically significant warming trend in the past 15 to 18 years (depending on the statistical method used to determine trends), a scientific fact presented in more detail below.

Global climate models (GCMs) are the basis of most of the forecasts contained in the TNCA and IPCC reports, and they form the scientific basis of GAO’s report. But this confidence in climate models is misplaced.

While often sophisticated and useful instruments of science, GCMs fail to incorporate or accurately represent all biological, chemical, and physical processes that influence climate over long periods. Freeman Dyson, professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, wrote in a 2007 essay for “I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry, and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.”[5]

This has led to the failure of several IPCC forecasts made by GCMs that were falsified by real-world data. For example, an analysis of satellite and surface temperature data from 1983 to 2013 found more than 95 percent of climate models overestimated warming trends.[6]

In addition to temperature, large differences between GCM predictions and observational data were found when analyzing other elements of weather such as clouds, permafrost, precipitation, ocean currents, sea ice, and wind. Such differences were not acknowledged by GAO prior to making its assessments of potential climate change impacts.

For example, thawing permafrost is mentioned throughout the study as a potential threat to waterfront infrastructure and military training operations. The report reads: “Officials stated that if temperatures continue to rise as projected, permafrost thawing could become more severe. This could further impact DOD training and may impact military readiness because DOD could not easily find another location to replicate the training offered in this area.” (page 14)

A 2005 paper in Permafrost and Periglacial Processes found almost all model assessments of changes in the world’s permafrost have been insufficient. The paper finds “the impacts of possible global warming in permafrost regions cannot be understood fully without consideration of a more realistic three-layer model.”[7] Presently, permafrost assessments have been made using less sophisticated two-layer models, omitting examinations of important transition zone layers that can obscure models’ assessments of future climate scenarios. If scientists’ predictions about incorporating such layers are accurate, past permafrost trends are likely to continue into the future without much need for alarm.

Scientists Anthony Lupo, William Kininmonth, and others write in the 2013 report, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, “To have any validity in terms of future projections, GCMs must incorporate not only the many physical processes involved in determining climate, but also all important chemical and biological processes that influence climate over long time periods. Several of these processes are either missing or inadequately represented in today’s state-of-the-art climate models.”[8]

GCMs also lack or “incorrectly parameterize” the fundamental processes by which surface temperatures respond to radiative forcing – the difference in energy absorbed by Earth compared to the energy radiated back into space – according to a 2008 paper published in Geophysical Research Letters by Judith Lean and David Rind.[9]

Such findings create problems for the GAO report, especially because it says, “U.S. average temperature has risen fewer than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years. It is projected to rise more in the future – how much more depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions.” (page 7)

It is true that future warming depends heavily on climate sensitivity, but the GAO report also should acknowledge not much more than a dozen researchers have studied climate sensitivity using actual measurements.[10]

According to a 2013 study by Roy Spencer and W.D. Braswell, climate sensitivity – the amount of temperature increase due to the doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere – was found to be 1.3°C based upon various global measurements.[11] In a paper for the Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Science, Richard S. Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi estimate climate sensitivity to be in the range of 0.7°C to 1.3°C, with a mean of 1.1°C for a doubling of CO2 concentration.

According to global temperature measurements developed by Spencer and John Christy, the most recent 15-year period has not experienced any statistically significant warming, despite being the same period IPCC presumed radiative forcing from increasing CO2 would be at its highest. As Spencer points out, “when the climate ‘stove’ has been turned up the most (the last 15 years) is also when you least expect a lack of warming.”[12] The unexpected lack of warming is illustrated in the graph below.

GCMs are widely understood in the climate science community to be too unreliable to form the basis for public policy. Consequently, they should not be used as the basis for a GAO analysis of DOD readiness or vulnerability to future climate conditions.

Source: Roy W. Spencer, “STILL Epic Fail: 73 Climate Models vs. Measurements, Running 5-Year Means,” June 6, 2013,

2. Rising Temperatures

The GAO report says:

For instance, DOD associates rising temperatures with potential climate change impacts such as thawing permafrost and wildfire risk. According to the [Climate Change Adaptation]Roadmap, this may result in mission vulnerabilities such as reduced military vehicle access and potential loss of cold weather training venues. In addition, DOD links changes in precipitation patterns with potential climate change impacts such as changes in the number of consecutive days of high or low precipitation as well as increases in the extent and duration of droughts, with an associated increase in the risk of wildfire. According to the Roadmap, this may result in mission vulnerabilities such as reduced live-fire training due to drought and increased wildfire risk, reduced water availability, and increased flood control or erosion prevention measures. (page 11)

Further, officials told us that they have noticed an increase in freezing rain due to rising temperatures. In the past, colder temperatures typically produced snow as opposed to freezing rain. This rain has affected targets that now require additional maintenance. Specifically, ice buildup from freezing rain can lock targets’ moving parts, breaking the targets or stopping them from properly functioning. Depending on the severity of the ice buildup, this may result in delays to training schedules. (page 14) 

According to the Roadmap, changes in the Earth’s climate could include rising temperatures and sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Given these potential changes, DOD’s stated approach is to minimize the vulnerabilities of its infrastructure to the impacts of these phenomena in order to maintain mission readiness. This may also reduce DOD’s fiscal exposure to the effects of climate change. (page 44)


The United Nations’ IPCC, following the practice of environmental advocacy groups, overestimates the rise in global temperatures in past decades by relying on surface-based temperature records that are not global, not reliable, and are subject to manipulation.[13] IPCC fails to properly account for the effects of land alteration, such as urbanization, on surface temperatures and temperature measurements. Even temperature effects of small towns – such as heat-radiating buildings, rooftops, and sidewalks – can far outweigh the effects of greenhouse gases.

The only truly global and reliable temperature data set is produced by satellites launched by NASA that have produced data continuously since 1979. John Christy and Roy Spencer are international authorities in interpreting these data, and they have determined there has been no global warming for at least the past 18 years.[14] See the graph below.

Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada, used a sophisticated mathematical technique, “heteroskedasticity and autocorrelation (HAC)-robust trend confidence interval estimator,” to control for errors often found in estimating trends. He estimates the global warming pause has lasted 19 years.[15]

Source: Roy W. Spencer, “Latest Global Temps,” December 2014,

Even the United Nations’ IPCC, known to exaggerate the threat of climate change and certainty of knowledge about its causes and consequences, admitted in its 2013 science report that there has been no statistically significant warming for the past 15 years. The report says “the [global mean surface temperature] trend over 1998–2012 is estimated to be around one-third to one-half of the trend over 1951–2012.”[16] The IPCC authors proceed to refer to this stagnating trend as the “hiatus” in global mean surface temperature. In the “Summary for Policymakers” of that report, the authors admit the rate of warming from 1998–2012 was virtually undetectable, increasing at a rate of 0.05°C per decade.[17]

No scientist can say with certainty whether global temperatures will rise or fall in coming decades. Predictions of rising temperatures have been contradicted by actual data so far. A growing number of climate scientists believe Earth is at the onset of a cooling period that may last for the next 15 years or longer.[18]

Professor Judith Curry, a climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says the world may be approaching a period similar to 1965–1975, when there was a clear cooling trend. Professor Anastasios Tsonis of the University of Wisconsin said, “We are already in a cooling trend, which I think will continue for the next 15 years at least. There is no doubt the warming of the 1980s and 1990s has stopped.”[19] The Russian Academy of Sciences says its members believe cooling is more likely to occur in the future than warming is.[20]

The absence of a warming trend at a time when CO2 levels are rising rapidly is not predicted by the alarmists’ theory that claims CO2 concentrations have a major impact on global temperature. The lack of correlation between stable temperatures and rising CO2 levels during the past 15 to 18 years proves nothing on its own, but a stronger challenge to alarmists’ theory is that there has been little or no connection historically between CO2 levels and global temperature.[21]

During the Holocene era, global temperatures were as warm as, if not warmer than, today – despite approximately 30 percent lower atmospheric CO2 levels. Similarly, Earth experienced a warming period during the Middle Ages (usually referred to as the Medieval Warm Period) despite CO2 levels far lower than today’s.[22]

Scientific evidence of a link between CO2 and global temperature, as opposed to climate models that simply assume such a link exists, is rare and weak at best. The best science suggests CO2 is a weak greenhouse gas frequently “trumped” by solar cycles, known patterns of ocean currents, and yet-to-be-understood climate processes.[23] Future global temperatures cannot be assumed to rise simply because human CO2 emissions are expected to rise. Thus, DOD and other sources of CO2 emissions cannot hope to reduce future warming by reducing their emissions.

3. Risk to Infrastructure

The GAO report says:

Some types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and regional droughts, have become more frequent and intense during the past 40 to 50 years. (page 7)

According to a Navy official, raising the height of the wall is a risk-reduction strategy to address the frequency of extreme weather events happening at the shipyard. (page 18)

More frequent and more severe extreme weather events and associated impacts may result in increased fiscal exposure for DOD. (page 20)

[E]xtreme precipitation events may lead to potential vulnerabilities such as increased maintenance costs for roads, utilities, and runways and increased flood-control measures. (page 22)

According to DOD officials and documents, one factor in the evaluation of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure is the impact of the types of extreme weather events that may become more frequent or severe due to climate change. (page 27)

In a 2013 report, we stated that extreme weather events and climate change pose risks to physical infrastructure and discussed observed climate change impacts in the United States. Specifically, we noted that – according to assessments by the National Research Council and the United States Global Change Research Program – changes in the climate have been observed in the United States and its coastal waters and are projected to grow in severity in the future, thereby increasing the vulnerability of infrastructure. We found that decision makers had not systematically incorporated climate change impacts into infrastructure planning because, among other reasons, available climate change information did not easily fit into their infrastructure planning process. (page 53)


Increased frequency of extreme weather events could affect military infrastructure and preparedness in the ways the report describes. However, the best available scientific research says there has not been a trend toward more frequent and more damaging weather events in recent decades and it is not possible to forecast their frequency and destructiveness in the future.

According to Benjamin Zycher, a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute,[24]

  • There has been no temperature trend over the past 15 years, notwithstanding the predictions of the models.
  • The past two years have set a record for the fewest tornadoes ever in a similar period, and there has been no upward trend in the frequency of strong (F3 to F5) tornadoes in the United States since 1950.[25]
  • The number of wildfires is in a long-term decline.[26]
  • It has been eight years since a Category 3 or higher hurricane landed on a U.S. coast; a similar period devoid of an intense hurricane making landfall has not been observed since 1900.[27]
  • The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season was the least active in 40 years, with zero major hurricanes.[28]
  • There has been no upward trend in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones,[29] and tropical cyclone energy is near its lowest level since reliable measurements began by satellite in the 1970s.[30]
  • There is no long-term trend in increases of sea level.[31]
  • The record of changes in the size of the Arctic ice cover is far more ambiguous than often asserted, because the satellite measurements began at the outset of the warming period from roughly 1980 through 1998.[32]
  • The Palmer Drought Severity Index shows no trend since 1895.[33]
  • Flooding in the United States over the past century has not been correlated with increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.[34]

Scientists Craig Idso, Robert M. Carter, S. Fred Singer, and Willie Soon examined the final version of the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of its Fifth Assessment Report, and found IPCC has “low confidence” in predictions of more frequent or intense weather, effectively walking back on previous, more alarmist, claims.[35]

An extensive review of this literature appears in Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science. The authors observe that, on all time scales, air temperature variability decreases as mean air temperature rises. “Therefore,” the authors write, “the claim that global warming will lead to more extremes of climate and weather, including of temperature itself, seems theoretically unsound; the claim is also unsupported by empirical evidence.”[36]

Idso and Madhav Khandekar reviewed several peer-reviewed papers examining North America precipitation trends. They write, “Clearly, moisture extremes in North America much greater than those observed in the modern era have occurred [previously]. Recent trends are neither unusual nor manmade; they are simply a normal part of Earth’s natural climatic variability. North America is like Africa, Asia, and Europe: Precipitation variability in the Current Warm Period is no greater than what was experienced in earlier times.”[37]

The Third National Climate Assessment, a compilation of alarmist claims and cherry-picked datapoints gathered to support President Barack Obama’s campaign against fossil fuels, admits, “There has been no universal trend in the overall extent of drought across the continental U.S. since 1900,” and “when averaging over the entire contiguous U.S., there is no overall trend in flood magnitudes.”[38]

Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder, has written extensively on the lack of scientific evidence connecting warming temperatures to extreme weather events. There is “a broad consensus in the scientific literature that the evidence for connections between climate change and disasters is incredibly weak, as reflected in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”[39] He also writes, “there is precious little evidence to suggest that the blame for the increasing tally of disaster costs can be placed on more frequent or extreme weather events attributable to human-caused climate change.”[40]

Although specific regions experienced significant changes in the intensity or number of extreme weather events in the twentieth century, there was no relationship between such events and global warming over the past 100 years. Any increase in DOD’s “fiscal exposure” to extreme weather events is more likely due to the increased number and size of structures that exist and has very little to do with weather variations.

DOD may believe it is wise to reinforce infrastructure in areas where violent weather has occurred in the past and is likely to occur in the future, but there is no scientific basis for assuming such conditions will be more likely in the future due to increasing CO2 emissions or that reducing CO2 emissions or using alternative fuels might affect tomorrow’s weather.

4. Risk to Mission Readiness

The GAO report says:

According to the Roadmap, changes in the Earth’s climate could include rising temperatures and sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Given these potential changes, DOD’s stated approach is to minimize the vulnerabilities of its infrastructure to the impacts of these phenomena in order to maintain mission readiness. This may also reduce DOD’s fiscal exposure to the effects of climate change. (page 44)


Much of the analysis presented in the previous section regarding the risk posed by severe weather to military infrastructure applies to this imagined threat to mission readiness as well. There has been no increase in severe weather in recent decades, regardless of whether the causes were natural or man-made, and therefore there is no “climate change” threat to mission readiness.

Moreover, if “mission readiness” were as vulnerable to climate change as described in the report (e.g., loss of soft-ground training locations, increased cost to infrastructure reinforcement), such vulnerability suggests an overhauling of procurement procedures and design standards may be a more appropriate response than adopting policies aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.

Much, if not all, of military equipage is powered by fossil fuels, including gasoline, JP-5 (yellow kerosene jet fuel), and F-76 (military diesel). Fossil fuels remain the common denominator for the world’s energy potential now and in the foreseeable future. Prematurely transitioning reliable and convenient fuel sources to inefficient and more costly alternatives, as the Department of the Navy and Department of Agriculture do with their “Farm-to-Fleet” programs, would curb operational capabilities and could be detrimental to military readiness.

Retired Navy veterans Admiral Thomas B. Hayward, Vice Admiral Edward S. Briggs, and Captain Donald K. Forbes write:

Military preparedness rests upon guaranteed access to energy supply for training and deployment of needed forces in both peace and war. Availability of abundant national fossil fuel sources for military missions ensures protection of maritime commerce, support for U.S. diplomacy, defense of common interests abroad, lasting political and defense coalitions, maintenance of forward presence in contested regions, and, when necessary, projection of offensive military power.[41]

These Navy officers are undoubtedly correct. The real threat to American military preparedness is not some hypothetical risk that temperatures might someday resume the warming patterns of the late twentieth century and then the even-less-plausible risk that this higher temperature will cause more extreme weather. Neither is likely to happen. The bigger risk is that policies adopted during the height of the global warming scare, many of them solely for symbolic or political purposes, will compromise American military power. This doesn’t seem to be of much concern to the elected officials who requested the GAO report, and their indifference is reflected in the report GAO produced for them.

5. Use of Alternative Fuels

The GAO report says:

We have previously reported that changes in the Earth’s climate attributable to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases may have significant environmental and economic impacts in the United States. Proposed responses to climate change include reducing greenhouse gas emissions through regulation, promoting low-emissions technologies, and adapting to the possible impacts by planning and improving protective infrastructure. (page 6)


The Obama Administration is seeking to use DOD to help wage its “war on coal,” part of its announced strategy of weaning the nation away from fossil fuels. DOD, like other executive agencies, makes public statements that seem to validate the claims and predictions of global warming alarmists. It also has been directed to spend scarce funds on expensive alternative energy projects to help pave the way to commercialization, pursuant to the largely discredited “infant industries” economic theory.[42]

In 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a power purchase agreement (PPA) authorizing $7 billion in spending on alternative energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind). In 2014, the program had 79 contracts to purchase power from third parties.[43] Importantly, DOD is not committed to spend $7 billion more than it otherwise would in order to boost alternative energy use. Alternative fuels are used only when the price is less than current utility costs or if the proposal provides for additional energy security for a military base in the event of grid failure.[44] This seems to be a reasonable policy.

Fossil fuel resources are far more affordable and reliable than alternatives available to DOD. Research from the Brookings Institution has found wind and solar are the two least cost-effective low-CO2 emissions technologies available. According to the study, nuclear was the second least cost-effective low-CO2 emissions technology available, after hydroelectric. Although nuclear power is still unfairly subsidized, small modular nuclear reactors – which are relatively small, reliable, and scaleable – at military installations are a vastly superior strategy for reducing CO2 emissions than other non-carbon-based sources of energy.[45]

The Brookings study found solar was the least cost-effective, costing on net 18.74 cents per kWh. The cost of solar was more than three times as much as wind energy, the second most costly low-emission technology, which cost 5.64 cents per kWh.[46] The National Conference of State Legislatures says power from most large, utility-scaled solar installations still costs about 35 percent more than electricity from natural gas plants. Many other experts estimate the levelized cost is even higher.[47]

An ample amount of evidence demonstrates physical limitations, not a lack of funding, have prevented solar power from scaling up and becoming competitive in the marketplace. Solar power is diffuse, has low density, and is intermittent, which is why it stands little or no chance of competing with the abundant and reliable power produced by coal, natural gas, nuclear minerals, and oil, each of which consumes less land and is available at affordable prices. These natural limits make it unlikely solar power will be anything more than a niche player for the foreseeable future.

Wind power is beset with similar physical limitations. Like solar power, wind power is intermittent: It cannot produce power at a constant and reliable rate. Wind power will be permanently inhibited by low capacity factors that cause higher costs.[48] For example, anti-cyclonic weather conditions in Germany in December 2013 made it difficult for both wind and solar power to generate any significant amount of energy. Conventional power stations were required to generate 95% of the nation’s electricity supply.[49]

Power lines are another major investment rarely considered before making low-emissions technology investments. Because wind and solar farms are land-intensive and often built in arid or rural locations far away from where power is consumed, massive transmission infrastructure is needed to transmit power from the generation source to the consumption source. Such power lines can stretch for hundreds of miles, and because low-emissions technologies like wind and solar produce less power, the costs of building and maintaining such lines often outweigh the benefits of using wind or solar. Power lines are also vulnerable to military strikes, terrorist attacks, and sabotage, and wind, solar, and biomass technologies are land-intensive, making them more vulnerable to extreme weather events.

These disadvantages do not affect conventional power, where a comparably smaller coal- or gas-fired plant produces power that can be more conveniently located close to a military base, where much power is needed. Providing electricity to troops in the field, however, may be a case where distributed power generation, such as solar panels or portable wind power generators, may be more efficient and practical than attempting to carry or transport conventional fuels.

The U.S. military, with its abundant technological, scientific, and financial resources, has a massive platform to steward energy innovation. Research and development is a legitimate function of DOD and other government agencies. However, investing in unreliable renewable energy resources for purposes other than those that support the department’s mission is wasteful, unnecessary based on sound science, and potentially dangerous when it diverts funding from higher priorities. 

6. Arctic Sea Ice

The GAO report says:

In its Fiscal Year 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, the Department of Defense (DOD) identified climate change phenomena such as rising temperatures and sea levels as potentially impacting its infrastructure, and officials at sites GAO visited or contacted noted actual impacts they had observed. For example, according to DOD officials, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations. (unnumbered introductory page)

For example, the Navy states that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world – and as a result – significant retreat of sea ice will accelerate throughout this century, causing previously unreachable areas to be increasingly open for maritime use. (page 9)


“[T]hawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels” affect military infrastructure and readiness. But once again, the questions to be asked are whether there has been an upward trend of these conditions in recent decades and whether it is possible to forecast their occurrence or pace in the future. The best available scientific research says the answer to both questions is “no.”

According to the authors of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science,[50] the melting of Arctic sea ice and polar icecaps is not occurring at “unnatural” rates and does not constitute evidence of a human impact on climate. Both the Antarctic[51] and Greenland[52] icecaps are close to balanced. Deep ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland show climate change occurs within major glacial-interglacial cycles and as shorter decadal and centennial events with high rates of warming and cooling, including abrupt temperature steps. Observed changes in temperature, snowfall, ice flow speed, glacial extent, and iceberg calving in both Antarctica and Greenland appear to lie within the limits of natural climate variation.

According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NASA/NOAA) satellite data, Antarctic sea ice at year-end 2014 was significantly above the 34-year average, despite rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.[53] Similarly, data from the European Space Agency CryoSat-2 satellite show Arctic sea ice volumes in 2014 were above the average set over the previous five years, and sharply above the recent lows of 2011 and 2012.[54]

Valley glaciers wax and wane on multidecadal, centennial, and millennial time-scales, and no evidence exists that their present, varied behavior falls outside long-term norms or is related to human CO2 emissions.[55] During the past 25,000 years, glaciers around the world have fluctuated broadly in concert with changing climate, at times shrinking to positions and volumes smaller than today. This fact notwithstanding, mountain glaciers around the world show a wide variety of responses to local climate variation and do not respond to global temperature change in a simple, uniform way.

Any melting that has occurred in the Arctic has occurred in the mountain glaciers and not at any unnatural rate that would indicate any human impact. According to data collected by the University of Oslo’s Ole Humlum, the global sea ice of today is similar to that first measured by satellite observation in 1979 and greater than the ice cover of past warmer times.[56]

Regarding sea levels, the authors of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science found the Argo buoy network shows no significant ocean warming over the past nine years.[57] Though the range of natural variation has yet to be fully described, evidence is lacking for any recent changes in global ocean circulation that lie outside natural variation or were forced by human CO2 emissions.

Local sea-level change occurs at widely variable rates around the world, typically between about +5 and -5 mm/year. Global (eustatic) sea level, knowledge of which has only limited use for coastal management, rose at an average rate of between 1 and 2 mm/year over the past century. Satellite altimeter studies of sea-level change indicate rates of global rise since 1993 of more than 3 mm/year, but complexities of processing and the infancy of the method preclude viewing this result as secure.

Rates of global sea-level change vary in decadal and multidecadal ways and show neither recent acceleration nor any simple relationship with increasing CO2 emissions. Pacific coral atolls are not being drowned by extra sea-level rise; rather, atoll shorelines are affected by direct weather and infrequent high tide events, El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) sea-level variations, and impacts of increasing human populations.

In short, there is no evidence that changes in Arctic ice or sea levels are any different today than they were in decades past, or that they are likely to change significantly in years ahead. DOD officials must already know this, since they know near-record accumulations of sea ice in the Arctic this year closed sea routes, contrary to predictions made by some global warming “experts” that there would be no ice at all at the North Pole by now.


Specific rebuttals aside, the GAO report is flawed primarily because it is based on a false premise: that all climate phenomena are getting worse over time. The reality is far more complicated than that.

A growing number of scientists believe the planet is on the verge of a climate cooling trend, even as atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise, calling into question the fundamental basis for the global warming hypothesis, the claim CO2 levels are tightly correlated with global temperature trends. The connection between rising CO2 concentrations and extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, and floods is equally dubious.

Many of the climate change indicators cited by GAO do not follow its narrative linking increased CO2 emissions to a more dangerous and volatile climate that puts the country’s national security at risk. DOD should reconsider its policy prescription of increased investments in adaptation or mitigation measures. Implementation of such measures by DOD without a sound, unbiased science backing is wasteful, premature, and not conducive to a strong national defense or “mission readiness.”

DOD should not sacrifice convenient and proven energy availability, which plays a key role in national security efforts, out of fear that global warming will cause changes in ice or sea levels that are unprecedented or require special preparations. The fear is unjustified, and the science is quite clear. There is no “climate change crisis” that DOD should be attempting to address.

[1] The report is available online at In the subsections below, passages from that report are quoted. Page numbers are shown in parentheses.

© 2015 The Heartland Institute. Nothing in this report should be construed as supporting or opposing any proposed or pending legislation, or as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heartland Institute.

[2] “About the IPCC,” website of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), accessed December 15, 2014,

[3] U.S. Global Change Research Program, Overview: Climate Change Impacts in the United States, 2014, accessed January 29, 2015,

[4] Frederic L. Milliken, “White House now a global warming alarmist,” Lexington Libertarian, May 2014,

[5] Freeman Dyson, “Heretical thoughts about science and society,” Edge, August 2007,

[6] Roy W. Spencer, “90 CMIP5 Climate Models vs. Observations,” 2013,

[7] Yuri Shur, Kenneth M. Hinkel, and Frederick E. Nelson, “The transient layer: implications for geocryology and climate-change science,” Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 16 (2005): 5–17,

[8] Anthony Lupo, William Kininmonth, et al., Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science (Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute, 2013), p. 13,

[9] Judith Lean and David Rind, “How natural and anthropogenic influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889 to 2006,” Geophysical Research Letters 35 (2008): 10.1029/2008GL034864,

[10] Roy W. Spencer, “Statement to the Environment and Public Works Committee of the United States Senate, July 18, 2013,

[11] Roy W. Spencer and W.D. Braswell, “The role of ENSO in global ocean temperature changes during 1955–2011 simulated with a 1D climate model,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences 50 (February 2014): 229–37,

[12] Roy W. Spencer, supra note 10.

[13] Anthony Watts, Is the U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable? The Heartland Institute, March 2009,

[14] Roy W. Spencer, “Latest Global Temps,” December 2014,

[15] Ross R. McKitrick, “HAC-Robust Measurement of the Duration of a Trendless Subsample in a

Global Climate Time Series,” Open Journal of Statistics 4 (2014): 527–35,

[16] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC. (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 9, “Evaluation of Climate Models,” pp. 769–72.

[17] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Summary for Policymakers: Fifth Assessment Report, September 27, 2013,

[18] P. Gosselin, “Global Cooling Consensus is Heating Up,” NoTricksZone, December 28, 2010, See also Lawrence Solomon, “A global cooling consensus,” Financial Post, October 31, 2013,

[19] Reference to Curry and quotation appear in Hayley Dixon, “Global warming? No, actually we’re cooling, claim scientists,” The Telegraph, September 8, 2013,

[20] P. Gosselin, “Russian Academy of Sciences Experts Warn of Imminent Cold Period: ‘Global Warming is a Marketing Trick,’” NoTricksZone, April 11, 2013,  

[21] Craig D. Idso, Robert M. Carter, and S. Fred Singer, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science (Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute, 2013),

[22] Ibid., Chapter 7, “Observations: Extreme Weather,” pp. 809–986.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Benjamin Zycher, “He’s explaining and he’s losing,” The Hill, July 18, 2014,

[25] National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Annual Count of Strong to Violent Tornadoes (F3+), 1954 through 2012,

[26] Anthony Watts, “‘What global warming really looks like’ – Michael Oppenheimer FAIL,” June 28, 2012,

[27] National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Continental United States Hurricane Strikes 1950–2011, 2011,

[28] Jillian MacMath, “Atlantic Hurricane Season Closes Without Any Major Hurricanes,” AccuWeather, November 30, 2013,

[29] Jessica Weinkle, Ryan Maue, and Roger Pielke Jr., “Historical Global Tropical Cyclone Landfalls,” Journal of Climate 25 (2012): 4732–4,

[30] Ryan Maue, “Global Tropical Cyclone Activity,” Weatherbell Analytics, updated January 28, 2015,

[31] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, “Global Linear Relative Mean Sea Level (MSL) trends and 95% Confidence Intervals (CI) in mm/year and in ft/century,”

[32] “Amazing Arctic Reconstructions,” World Climate Report, March 10, 2011,

[33] Climate Prediction Center, National Weather Service, Drought Monitoring,

[34] R.M. Hirsch and K.R. Ryberg, “Has the magnitude of floods across the USA changed with global CO2 levels?” Hydrological Sciences Journal 57 (2012): 1–9,

[35] Craig Idso, Robert M. Carter, S. Fred Singer, and Willie Soon, Scientific Critique of IPCC’s 2013Summary for Policymakers” (Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute, 2013), p. 5,

[36] Craig Idso, et al., supra note 22.

[37] Craig Idso, et al., supra note 35.

[38] Quoted by Roger Pielke, Jr., The Right Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (Tempe, AZ: Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, 2014), p. 3.

[39] Ibid., p. 6.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Thomas B. Hayward, Edward S. Briggs, and Donald K. Forbes, Climate Change, Energy Policy, and National Power (Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute, 2014), pp. 24–5,

[42] Travis S. Fisher, “Before the Kansas Senate Standing Committee on Utilities,” testimony, March 2014,

[43] Tina Casey, “Department of Defense Goes Big on Wind, Solar, and Biomass,” Clean Technica, February 21, 2014,

[44] Redstone Arsenal, “Redstone Arsenal Solar Project Task Order Under MATOC,” July 2014,

[45] Steve Magnuson, “Advocates Tout Small Nuclear Reactors for Military Installations (UPDATED),” National Defense, June 2013, AdvocatesToutSmallNuclearReactorsforMilitaryInstallations.aspx.

[46] Charles Frank, “Why the Best Path to a Low-Carbon Future Is Not Wind or Solar Power,” Brookings, May 20, 2014,

[47] Julie Lays, “Hot on the Horizon,” State Legislatures Magazine, January 2014,

[48] Jay Lehr, “The Rationale for Wind Power Won’t Fly,” The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2013,

[49] Daniel Wetzel, “Renewables fiasco: doldrums and clouds bring green electricity production to a halt,” The Global Warming Policy Forum, December 12, 2013,

[50] Craig Idso, et al., supra note 21, Chapter 5, “Observations: The Cryosphere.”

[51] H. Jay Zwally, et al., “Mass changes of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and shelves and contributions to sea-level rise: 1992–2002,” Journal of Glaciology 51 (2005): 509–27, See also H. Jay Zwally and Mario B. Giovinetto, “Overview and assessment of Antarctic Ice-Sheet mass balance estimates: 1992–2009, Surveys in Geophysics 32 (2011): 351–76,

[52] Ola M. Johannessen, et al., “Recent ice-sheet growth in the interior of Greenland,” Science 310 (2005): 1013–6,

[53] The Cryosphere Today, See especially the Current Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice Area graph,

[54] Levi Winchester, “Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is 'not melting', says global warming expert,” Express, December 25, 2014,

[55] Donald J. Easterbrook, Evidence-based Climate Science (Amsterdam: Elsevier, Inc., 2011).

[56] Ole Humlum, “Monthly Antarctic, Arctic and global sea ice extent since November 1978,”

[57] R.S. Knox and D.H. Douglass, “Recent energy balance of Earth,” International Journal of Geosciences 1 (November 2010): 1–3,

Taylor Smith was a policy analyst for The Heartland Institute specializing in energy, climate, and environmental regulation. He is coauthor with James M.