There is no disputing the fact that America’s fighting machine sees climate change as a clear and present danger. Those who are responsible for America’s defense unanimously agree that climate change poses a significant risk to US national security and international security. This consensus is shared by the Pentagon, all branches of the US armed services, intelligence leaders, and senior military experts.
There has been a steady stream of reports that conclusively acknowledge that climate change is real and requires urgent action. The Pentagon’s defense reviews in both 2010 and 2014 reiterated science-based views on climate change. In 2016 the Center for Climate and Security, a nonpartisan group of senior military and national security experts, released a “consensus statement on climate change”.
These documents prompted two climate security experts to release the following statement:
“These reports make it crystal clear to national security and defense leaders, there’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it.” This statement was released by Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, the Co-Presidents at the Center for Climate and Security.
The American military had already identified climate change as a global threat to US security interests before Republicans embraced the politics of climate “skepticism” (aka denial) and long before Trump threw his hat in the ring to be president. Energy initiatives that focus on enhancing capability and resiliency are already being deployed on the battlefield. Combat outposts currently use tactical solar gear saving tens of millions of gallons of fuel every year.
The US military is the world’s largest fossil fuel user and the Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest single user of energy in the country. As reported by National Geographic, DoD operates more than 555,000 facilities on 28 million acres of land with a replacement value of $850 billion. At least 128 coastal bases, valued at $100 billion are under direct threat from climate change.
The power requirements of the US military are staggering and meeting these energy needs around the world is a herculean logistical challenge. Integrating renewables that can generate power into the energy mix in theater is eminently logical. Investors are following this logic. According to EDF, private sector investments in DoD installations are expected to generate 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2025.
DoD has made no secret of its efforts to add resiliency and grid independence to its key military installations. The Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force have all been actively working to improve their efficiency and increase their reliance on renewables. While energy initiatives focus on enhancing capability and resiliency they are also good for the environment and our climate. In addition to solar and wind, DoD has also invested in hydrogen storage systems.
DoD works with scientists as well as state and local governments to develop adaptation strategies. The military is feeling the impacts of climate change and these impacts go far beyond flooding and droughts. For example, the British Navy testified to the UK’s Defense Committee that their Type 45 destroyers keep losing power because of high ocean temperatures.
DoD has been formally monitoring the risks of Climate Change since at least 2003 and they have concluded that climate change is an indisputable fact. However, facts have not prevented America’s reigning Commander-and-Chief from saying that global warming a “hoax” and “bullshit”. Thankfully Trump’s Secretary of Defense and every branch of the US armed services disagree.
While Trump and the GOP want to increase military spending they do not want to fund mitigation or adaptation efforts. Despite the dire consequences for national security, Trump’s budget slashes climate research and action. In both 2014 and 2016, House Republicans have explicitly denied funding for climate action in Defense Department spending bills.
Despite the irresponsible conduct of fossil-fuel-funded legislators in the GOP, Secretary of Defense Mattis was lauded by military experts* for his clear statements about climate change in his testimony before Congress.
“Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon,” Mattis said. Here are some examples of climate awareness and action in the various branches of the US military.
The US Navy is determined to cut its fossil fuels and get half of its energy from alternative sources by 2020. The Navy is on track to produce more than a gigawatt of electricity in the next few years. In 2012, the Navy announced ambitious energy goals, including making half of all Navy bases, stations, and schools net-zero-energy by 2020. The Navy’s environmental efforts are not new they started decades ago.
“The Navy began installing equipment on our ships to safely manage our waste stream at sea and protect the environment over 30 years ago, and our bases have developed robust programs to protect natural resources and keep the air, water, and soil clean,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division (OPNAV N45).
Now the Navy is working on its supply chain. As reported by Environmental Leader, in 2016 the US Navy asked its largest suppliers to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). They also want these companies to provide strategies to reduce these GHGs.
Flooding is already a problem affecting Norfolk station, the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet, and at other bases clustered around the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. At the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, tidal flooding now occurs 50 times a year.
In 2015 the Navy signed a deal to build a massive 210-megawatt solar farm with 650,000 photovoltaic panels. This solar station will generate a third of the electricity used by 14 Navy and Marine Corps bases in the western United States. The naval nuclear submarine base in Georgia is but one example (136,000 solar panels have been installed at the base).
In 2016 United States Navy at Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL) awarded an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) to Pepco Energy Services for new energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.
This spring the US Navy signed a deal for two hydrogen fuel cell plants at a submarine base in Groton, CT. Together these plants will have a total output of 7.4 megawatts.
Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, have developed innovative applications of alternative energy technologies including recovering carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and converting it to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.
Like other branches of the armed services, the Marine Corps is also vulnerable to flooding. The Recruit Depot Parris Island is expected to be underwater by the end of the century.
Not all of the initiatives are big-ticket items. If repeated often enough a number of small actions can make a big difference. In 2015 the Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ) in Virginia replaced nearly 2,000 exterior area mercury vapor high-pressure sodium fixtures with energy-efficient LED fixtures.
The Army has been using renewable energy for years. In 2013 the Army Reserve drilled 83 geothermal wells at its Bryan Army Reserve Center in Bryan, Texas. The solar power plant at the Army’s Fort Huachuca was the largest renewable energy installation on a US military base when it was announced in 2014. The 68-acre plant has a peak output of 18 megawatts or about a quarter of the base’s needs.
Fort Hood in Texas is on the front lines of the US Army’s renewable energy efforts. The base aims to get half of its energy from renewables in the coming years. This includes a massive 132-acre solar farm that can accommodate 63,000 solar panels. The Army is also investing in an outside wind farm. Together these renewable energy projects will cost about $100 million but will save about $168 million over thirty years. In 2016 Fort Hood signed a power purchase agreement for 65 MW of solar and wind.
More than 2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic are in the works as part of a multi-phase renewable energy and energy efficiency project at the Adelphi Laboratory Center in Adelphi, Maryland, a research and development facility of the US Army.
US Air Force (USAF)
This spring the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office announced that it had developed expeditionary operating bases equipped with renewable energy. The solar panels being used may eventually be bulletproof and there is also a lightweight wind power package that is being explored. This is part of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s 2035 vision which includes creating a deployable, self-sustaining power system. The Air Force has also developed and implemented more efficient flight routes that save massive amounts of fuel worth around $1.5 billion.
* Here is a list of some of the military leaders who have lauded Secretary Mattis’s acknowledgement of climate change. Rear Admiral Ann Claire Phillips, U.S. Navy (Ret), Rear Admiral David W. Titley, U.S. Navy (Ret), Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, U.S. Army (Ret), Rear Admiral Len Hering, U.S. Navy (Ret), Joan D.B. VanDervort, Former Deputy Director for Ranges, Sea and Airspace in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Readiness), Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, US Army (Ret), Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, U.S. Navy (Ret), General Ron Keys, U.S. Air Force (Ret), Admiral Frank “Skip” Bowman, U.S. Navy (Ret), Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret), and Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson, U.S. Air Force (Ret).
Arguments for Climate Action that may Resonate with Trump and other Republicans
Climate Change is a National Security Issue
The DoD’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (CCAR)
15 National Security Officials on the Threat of Climate Change
US Military: More Renewable Energy Less Fossil Fuel
Climate Change Exacerbates Social Tensions and Causes Conflict
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How to get Through to Climate Change Deniers President Obama’s 2013 Environmental Budget
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