Climate change might be the most significant threat facing the Army’s health readiness in the future, one Army science advisor said.
Dr. Steven Cersovsky spoke during the Association of the U.S. Army’s “Hot Topics” forum on health readiness in Arlington, Virginia, Sept. 22. He serves as science advisor for the Army Public Health Center (Provisional) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
“We must understand what is coming and how these changes will affect our Army,” Cersovsky said. “And we must begin adapting now.”
More heat-related injuries will be among the most obvious problems coming with global warming, Cersovsky said.
“I would also argue that we already have an unacceptably high level of heat injuries in our formations,” he said.
Operating safely in the extreme environments of the future will require engineering solutions, materiel and possibly pharmaceuticals, Cersovsky said.
Air quality will worsen with climate change, he said, including an increase in particulate matter such as dust and pollen, and the ozone layer may be affected. This will cause an increase in respiratory problems.
New medical countermeasures will be necessary, he said, like vaccines and medicines.
Behavioral health problems will also increase, he said, caused by the high levels of stress associated with any disaster – both catastrophic disasters and “slow-moving” ones like drought.
Cersovsky said that climate change will cause an increase in diseases such as malaria, and that water-borne diseases may become more prevalent in regions that see an increase in precipitation.
In other areas, climate change will cause drought, which will result in food shortages and increased hunger.
“All these changes are likely to spur further migrations to urban centers and cause a cycle of instability, especially in regions that are already stressed,” Cersovsky said.
With instability comes the risk of violence, he continued, and the possible need for military intervention.
“As a global force, we must be prepared to address the effects of climate change on our own readiness,” Cersovsky said, “as well as respond to the needs of others as they experience the negative consequences.”
Cersovsky was part of a panel discussing “Enabling Health Readiness in a Complex World.”
Complexity was described by panel chair Maj. Gen. Nadja West, staff surgeon for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, who explained the difference between “complexity” and “complication.”
How a wrist watch works is complicated, West said, but it can be figured out. Complexity is complication that is constantly changing with different outcomes every time, she said.
Navy Capt. Scott A. Cota was also on the panel. He serves as command surgeon for the U.S. Special Operations Command. He said that in the places around the world already affected by drought, water has become a precious commodity.
“Water is like gold,” Cota said, “because of its scarcity in some locations.”
The scarcity of potable water is definitely something the military will need to be concerned about in the future, he said.
“The need is only going to increase, as we see the kind of global changes that most scientists anticipate,” Cersovsky said.
Global warming, according to Cersovsky, will cause more:
- heat-related injuries
- respiratory illnesses
- behavioral health problems
- food shortages
- water shortages
- regional instability