In the face of escalating climate hazards such as extreme heat, flooding, severe weather, and wildfires, the security of America’s communities, environment, institutions, and economy stands at a critical juncture. Recognizing the profound impact of these threats on national security, the White House took a landmark step in 2023 by releasing the inaugural National Climate Resilience Framework, which highlighted the need for immediate investment and decisive action to fortify climate adaptation and resilience efforts. In January 2024, the Truman Center hosted a webinar on “The State of American Climate Adaptation & Resilience” to discuss how Americans can safeguard lives, livelihoods, and national security amidst the ever-growing challenges posed by climate change.
The event featured members of the Truman National Security Project including Mark Nevitt, Associate Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law and a former tactical jet aviator and attorney (JAG) in the United States Navy; Susannah Cunningham, Co-Chair of the Evacuate Our Allies (EOA) Coalition and Senior Policy Advisor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Justin Knighten, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Office of External Affairs; and moderator Katie MacDonald, a climate activist, investor, and innovation policy expert, and Co-founder of Tailwind.
Katie MacDonald began the conversation by highlighting the linkages between climate change and national security, with an emphasis on the importance of climate adaptation and resilience. Having experienced climate-related disasters like flooding, Susannah Cunningham then shared her personal connection with climate change, noting that the inability to escape the impact of climate disasters is now part of the human condition - for example, everyone she knows in Houston, she said, has faced flooding and/or the loss of their homes.
As the Director of FEMA’s Office of External Affairs, Justin Knighten discussed his focus on underserved communities, and shared his experiences with catastrophic floods, evacuations, and being stranded in the streets growing up in northern California. These real-life encounters with climate-related disasters motivated him to make an impact through implementing resilient and adaptive mitigation initiatives and strengthening infrastructure to better withstand climate disasters.
In his remarks, Mark Nevitt reflected on his upbringing in Rhode Island, the evolving effects climate change has on the ocean, and the recurrent flooding he witnessed while working in Virginia. He emphasized the strategic importance of addressing climate issues proactively as a matter of military readiness and operations.
The conversation concluded with the panelists recommending new initiatives to mitigate the impact climate-related disasters have on communities. Recommendations included mandating that all states provide climate change information such as mandatory flood disclosures to the public, and urging the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission to take climate change into account when considering where investments are made in national security infrastructure.