When the Defense Department published the Quadrennial Defense Review earlier this year, I was struck that they would take such a leadership position on the issue. While the political right debates whether climate change is in fact occurring, the Defense Department recognized the threat as it is:
“Crafting a strategic approach to climate and energy: Climate change and energy will play significant roles in the future security environment. The Department is developing policies and plans to manage the effects of climate change on its operating environment, missions, and facilities. The Department already performs environmental stewardship at hundreds of DoD installations throughout the United States, working to meet resource efficiency and sustainability goals. We must continue incorporating geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and acquisition processes.”
Why would the DoD be taking such a leadership role on climate change? That’s easy – because the military, unlike the political classes, must actively prepare for the distant future; they must be ready to deal with the consequences:
“Climate change will affect DoD in two broad ways. First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows… Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”
As a result the DoD committed to “foster efforts to assess, to adapt, and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.” Well we are starting to see the fruits of that effort already. Apparently, a Marine company just deployed to the rugged outback of Helmand Province with portable solar panels that fold up into boxes, energy-conserving lights, solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity, and solar chargers for computers and communications equipment. Way to go Marines!! On top of that, the Navy just introduced a new hybrid warship, the U.S.S. Makin Island, able to run on electricity at speeds of less than 10 kts, more efficiently than on diesel fuel. The Air Force committed to outfitting their entire fleet for biofuel by 2011. The military pioneered integration in the United States, and the country eventually followed. Now the DoD is pioneering clean energy. It is time to follow their lead.