Ahead of the Curve: Military Drives Environmental Action


Image courtesy of Solar Energy Industries Association and United States Marine Corp.

Image courtesy of Solar Energy Industries Association and United States Marine Corp.

The military may, in fact, be just the bridge we need in order to gain more widespread environmental action.

The U.S. military has – somewhat surprisingly – become one of the most important voices in environmental activism, specifically through their promotion of clean energy. At first blush it might seem out of place to characterize the military as a climate activist, but their fervent advocacy for bold action to address climate change places them squarely in the activist camp alongside the likes of 350.org and Greenpeace (Merriam-Webster agrees).

In addition to being a leading voice, the military is a central actor, increasing adoption of renewable energy on bases, and researching sustainable fuel sources for naval fleets. The military may, in fact, be just the bridge we need in order to gain more widespread environmental action.

Facing the Facts

The military is considered a bastion of conservatism by many. But the military’s approach to climate change is anything but conservative; it’s pragmatic. There is no denying the threat multiplier described as the “Mother of All Risks”. For starters, the U.S. Department of Defense understands and accepts the threat posed by climate change. In a report to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the DoD stated,

“Global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests… [aggravating] existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions—that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.”

The military is considered a bastion of conservatism by many. But the military’s approach to climate change is anything but conservative; it’s pragmatic.

Brigadier general Stephen Cheney, USMC [RET] CEO of the American Security Project echoed that sentiment, remarking, “Naval bases by the nature, of course, are on the coast. Coasts are threatened as the sea level rises…[Eglin Air Force base in Florida] has already flooded in this past year when they had to shut it down for the first time in its history.”

All this follows a Military Advisory Board report “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change” which, as its title suggests, outlines the fundamental dangers posed by climate change. This rhetoric, though lacking the emotional tenor preferred by most activists, ultimately paints the same picture; that of a global society whose problems are exacerbated by a changing climate.

Towards Cleaner Energy Pastures

The military has embarked on what has been described as a “renewable-energy binge”, purchasing wind and solar from electric utilities across the country as part of the DoD’s aggressive goal to produce 3GW of renewable energy by 2025. Dennis McGinn, the Navy’s Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations and Environment, explained the binge saying,

“There are crises that occur across economic and political lines, and they are going to be exacerbated by increased pressure from weather events. We want to do our part to mitigate some of those effects, while also recognizing that we can’t avoid all of them.”

As a part of this push, Alabama Power is moving forward with a plan to develop two solar projects producing a combined 20MW at the Anniston Army Depot and at Fort Rucker. Meanwhile NextEra Energy Resources recently secured a contract to build and operate 17MW on military installations in Hawaii, and Fort Campbell recently completed phase one of a 5MW solar array.

Leading the Pack

And it isn’t just the United States military that’s leading the charge on renewables; numerous other international military groups are getting in on the action as well. The European Defense Agency (EDA), for example, has called on European military forces to further expand the development of renewable energy on bases. Tom Bennington, Program Manager for Energy and the Environment at the EDA cited the development of a 5MW solar power generation station at Paphos military airbase in Cyprus is an example of the type of investment the military should be making in renewables. Bennington outlined that the aim is to reduce fossil fuel consumption through the use of sustainable, renewable energy. U.S. frenemy and fellow avid polluter China is part of the trend as well, with the Chinese military planning to build a wave farm to generate power for a radar on an isolated island in the South China Sea.

The military has the credibility and influence that resonates with both sides of the aisle, which suggests that they are just the right entity to breakdown partisan divides and drive pragmatic climate solutions.

While all of these clean energy efforts are noteworthy, they may also seem short of altruistic in that the overarching goal of saving the planet is secondary to the immediate priority of cutting costs, improving operational efficiency, and reducing threat multipliers. However, this shouldn’t deter the larger environmental movement from giving credit where credit is due by acknowledging the military as a key and influential environmental player. In fact, even the Sierra Club has taken notice.

Considering that the pro-climate perspective of the military align with most environmental activists, at least from the renewable/clean energy standpoint, it would make sense to include the military’s approach in broader climate change discussions. The military has the credibility and influence that resonates with both sides of the aisle, which suggests that they are just the right entity to breakdown partisan divides and drive pragmatic climate solutions. If the military and environmental NGOs can agree on approaches to address and solve climate change no matter what the motivation, then there is room for almost every group to play a role in environmentalism across the spectrum.


 
Marvin Smith.jpeg

Marvin Smith is a former Future 500 team member. He currently works for the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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