Admiral Titley: A New Arctic – Climate Change and National Security

February 20, 2013

Admiral David Titley (ret) was, until just a few years ago, Chief Oceanographer for the US Navy. I posted video of his 2010 TEDxPentagon talks some time ago, worth reviewing and sharing. (above and below)

Below, he updates us on the national security implications of a thawing Arctic Ocean.

WBUR Boston:

It’s all about the water.

Okay, it’s partly about food and energy, too. But from a national security perspective, climate change is all about the water: where it is or isn’t, how much or how little there is, how quickly it changes from one state (e.g., solid ice to liquid water) to another.

Because of the effects of climate change in the Arctic, for the first time in 500 years we’re opening a new ocean to navigation. The last guy who did that was Christopher Columbus.

Until 2005, the Arctic Polar ice cap consisted mostly of multi-year ice — ice that had formed two or more years before the date of measurement and was generally 2 to 4 meters (6.6 to 13 feet) thick and much harder to break through than first-year ice. Since 2007, most Arctic ice is now less than a year old and less than one meter thick. Climate scientists now expect that by 2030 much of the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice several months a year, opening it for commercial navigation just as the Baltic Sea is now.

The opening of the Arctic is the most immediate national security challenge presented by climate change. Except for submarines, the U.S. Navy has not operated widely on the surface of the Arctic Ocean; neither has anyone else. The Arctic is poorly charted and therefore dangerous to navigation. There’s very little infrastructure and it’s an extremely harsh operating environment.

Will the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska start to take on the characteristics of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil passes, or the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific Oceans? Will it become a global hot spot for international tensions? As the Navy increasingly patrols the Arctic Ocean, what happens to our ability to patrol the western Pacific?

The Navy’s strategic objectives for the Arctic are that it remains a “safe, stable and secure” region. It’s a hopeful sign that all other Arctic nations, including Russia, have similar objectives. Because we all have similar national self-interests, there’s a greater likelihood of peacefully negotiating the challenges presented by the fastest changing environment in the world.

When I was in the Navy, we tried to strip away the emotions associated with climate change as a political issue. It’s a change, and just like changing demographics, political regimes and economic conditions, we need to deal with it. If we don’t, we’re putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage — and the United States military never wants to be at a competitive disadvantage.

The Department of Defense plans for everything, and particularly for potential changes in “the battlespace,” the geography in which we operate. With global sea levels projected torise anywhere from 20 centimeters (8 inches) to 2 meters (6.6 feet) this century as a consequence of climate change, that’s a change we have to account for and plan for.

Since the Navy operates at sea level, as levels rise, each one of our bases is affected. So too are the installations and the surrounding communities on which they rely for food, housing, goods and services. As a nation, we’re just beginning to consider the economic consequences of rebuilding that entire infrastructure.

Winston Churchill is believed to have said, “Americans can always be counted upon to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

The “right thing” with respect to climate change is to undertake a sustained effort to minimize impact on ourselves and other nations. We may not have exhausted all other possibilities yet, but I think we’re close.

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9 Responses to “Admiral Titley: A New Arctic – Climate Change and National Security”


  1. […] Admiral David Titley (ret) was, until just a few years ago, Chief Oceanographer for the US Navy. I posted video of his 2010 TEDxPentagon talks some time ago, worth reviewing and sharing. (above and…  […]

  2. mbrysonb Says:

    A nice closing point here. Let’s hope that point of exhaustion comes sooner rather than later…

  3. rayduray Says:

    Rhetorical question:

    Why is it that bureaucrats can only tell the truth AFTER they retire?

    Decades ago Dottie Parker created a wholesale libel on a Yale prom. “If all the girls attending it were laid end to end”, Mrs Parker said, she “wouldn’t be at all surprised”.

    Now we have the spectacle of David Titley telling the truth about climate change after he’s been retired and made impotent, Lawrence Wilkerson confessing on every media channel he can arrange that the Iraq War was based in debauched lies and dozens more retired upper class gents all saying the U.S. is headed off a cliff. Of course they are correct in this observation, but so what?

    All of them speaking once their power is lost.

    What is it with this idiot nation that we can have a weird president teeing off with a philanderer like Tiger Wood over the weekend while his surrogates are taking the progressives to task for puritanical rigidity and the idealistic pursuit of truth? Is Obama having his jollies with a Yale co-ed while Rome-On-The_Potomac burns?

    As I say, this was only rhetorical. In the future, I’m relying on Matt Drudge to further illuminate me on the meaning of Barack and Michelle Obama taking separate vacations. No doubt not in the company of David Titley.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Admiral Titley spoke out often and eloquently, in public and in congressional testimony, while he was on active duty.


      • You should not tell a denialest the truth. Belief is more important than reality. It may make him question his thinking processes.

        A denialest see information he doesn’t like and looks for things he can attack because the data doesn’t support his views. He saw the words Rear Admiral David W. Titley RETIRED. RETIRED yes he’s having martinis … change him to a bureaucrats list anecdotal examples to support his new fiction that gives him peace of mind that AGW is not real.

        But Peter, don’t tell him that he retired last summer (06/12/2012) all the videos, testimony, etc. was as an active Rear Admiral (2009-2012). It would just burst that bubble of denial that he works so hard to keep.

        http://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/USNRFC-4449a6

        “….As an oceanographer and meteorologist, Dr. Titley’s expertise is widely known and deeply respected not only within our Navy, but across the federal government and among his international peers. A member of the American Meteorological Society and a mainstay in scientific and academic circles, his contributions have been profound, enduring and far-reaching, a true testament to his unabiding passion and dedication to his profession. And he is still not done! After a short break, he will shift to civilian attire and report to the Department of Commerce as the Deputy Under Secretary for Operations at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, essentially NOAA’s Chief Operating Officer. An incredible second career for an incredible Naval officer. …”

        • aaronmichaux Says:

          > But Peter, don’t tell him that he retired last summer (06/12/2012)
          > all the videos, testimony, etc. was as an active Rear Admiral (2009-2012).

          There is no way to convince someone in denial. That’s why it is called denial, and not something else. (Like strong conviction.) If you’re interested in countering disinformation, that just be forthright, and appreciate that you will be trying to convince other people with reasonable rhetoric. Give up on the idea that you can change someone’s mind on political charged issues related to their self-identity.


          • You are using the Freud’s model. I am using Festinger 1957 cognitive dissonance

            Leon Festinger (1957) proposed cognitive dissonance theory, which states that a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behavior.

            According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, we are motivated to reduce or eliminate it, and achieve consonance (i.e. agreement).

            In his mind he is avoiding disharmony (or dissonance behavior). Denial is a stage of dissonance.
            Dissonance can be resolved. Pointing out just the facts has an opposite affect they more passionately resist. By pointing to the flaws in his reasoning in a non-threatening manner is the correct way to deal with denial.

      • rayduray Says:

        Thanks. I stand corrected. Then he’s the exception to the rule.

      • andrewfez Says:

        You might even say he spoke ‘admiral-ably’.


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