The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

Fighting Climate Change

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The US Military has recently announced that climate change is a serious security risk. Increased natural disasters of various types will drain military resources directly, through humanitarian missions, leaving the US less prepared to deal with security problems. And such disasters will create political instability and massive migrations of refugees, conditions that provide fertile ground for extremism.

These risks are not news, of course. The big deal now is only that the military has spoken up about it. Preparing for climate change is now official military policy, as reflected in what kinds of possibly scenarios the armed forces prepare for and how they handle their logistical planning. This is doubly good news–because acknowledging reality in this way will make the US safer and because of the political value of the military getting behind the issue. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has stated that defense leaders need to be part of the upcoming climate conference in Lima, in December. That implies a powerful new voice in favor of concrete, binding action.

Climate change mitigation is often in the news these days. Various communities and agencies are preparing for rising seas and unpredictable weather in various ways. I have mixed reactions to these stories, since it often sounds as though preventing the disaster is being lost in the shuffle, as though we are going from denial to despair without pausing in the middle for action.

But the military is also quite serious about lowering emissions. According to The Army Times,

A Senate committee is endorsing a Defense Department program that aims to combine new building designs, energy conservation and use of renewable energy sources to reduce the net output of greenhouse gases on military installations to zero.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s biggest worry is that the concept is so ambitious that it will be difficult to complete. The committee wants an assessment from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, on the chances of success, and whether Congress can do anything to help.

All of the services are involved in a partnership with the Energy Department in the so-called NetZero program, which by 2020 aims to have six Army bases producing as much energy and water as they consume, while sending no solid waste to landfills. The goal is to have the entire Army at a “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions level by 2030.

The program only addresses “stationary emissions,” those related to buildings and so forth, not transportation, but since stationary sources count for half the military’s emissions, this is quite meaningful. In any case, the military is also investing heavily in various alternative fuels through other programs.

This is what the rest of us should be doing–a real commitment to getting off fossil fuel as quickly as technically feasible. And since the Armed Forces hardly has a liberal reputation, their example could be important. The American history of adopting new technologies and practices from the military (the Internet, GPS, computers) also suggests this could be a good thing.

And yet even in making this announcement, The Army Times implied an ambivalence towards the issue, referring to “emissions believed to cause global warming,” just as if carbon dioxide’s heat-trapping property hasn’t been well understood for over a hundred and twenty years.

The military is not as vulnerable to political pressure as most other American institutions, which is sometimes good news and sometimes bad news. Right now, it’s good news. But it is not immune. The next president could easily reverse all of this.

Vote. Vote with climate change in mind.




Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

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