Why does the Pentagon care about climate change?
The nation’s military staff did not suddenly turn into a bunch of schoolboys. But strategists are increasingly alarmed by the security implications of climate change.
The strategy notes “an increased risk of armed conflict in places where established social orders and populations are disrupted. The risk will increase even more where climate effects aggravate social instability, reduce access to basic necessities, undermine fragile governments and economies, damage vital infrastructure and reduce agricultural production.
Analysts fear what could happen if fighting breaks out over access to water, for example. The Mekong River is vital for Southeast Asian countries and its source is in China. A drought caused by climate change in Syria that lasted from 2006 to 2010 is widely recognized as one of the sparks of the deadly conflict in that country. Melting ice caps in the Arctic Ocean have sparked great power competition for control of the north.
What will really change in the army?
The strategy sets ambitious goals: carbon-free electricity for facilities by 2030. Net-zero emissions from military facilities by 2045. An increasingly electrified fleet of vehicles, including the development of tactical vehicles electricity – those going into combat – by 2050. Microgrid installations on all army posts by 2035, paving the way for an increase in renewable energy. Think more about climate issues when making decisions about how the military manages its vast land holdings.
The Army also wants to train its personnel in climate issues and reduce the carbon footprint of its military exercises.
The strategy still needs to be backed by a real budget. Until then, it remains partly theoretical. And there’s no price tag in the 12-page document that was made public.
But experts say the goals are concrete and should result in rapid movement.
“This level of detail is impressive. … It has very concrete goals that are measurable,” said Erin Sikorsky, who led climate work for the US intelligence community and is now director of the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based think tank. “It’s something the United States is leading the way.”
Why is it important what the Pentagon is doing to fight global warming?
The Department of Defense has a large footprint: it accounts for 56% of the federal government’s carbon footprint and 52% of its electricity consumption. So when it does anything it creates huge ripples. And the army is the greatest military service. It also means that most efforts to tackle emissions tied to the federal government are minor compared to those of the Pentagon.
The military has not traditionally been a focus of environmentalists, in part because the culture and politics of the Pentagon and the green movement have not intersected. But that is starting to change.
“Looking at the federal government, there’s just no getting around it. You have to have the DOD front and center” if the government wants to work on climate change, said Sharon Burke, a former deputy secretary of defense in the Obama administration who works on climate security issues.
“There are things about it that escape you. It has the largest child care system in the country. It just has a ton of scale,” Burke said.
Decisions made at the top to reduce emissions and integrate climate change into planning can have a major impact, on everything from hundreds of thousands of Army vehicles to the more than 16 million acres of land it manages. in the world.
Wait – isn’t the military supposed to fight wars, not fight global warming?
The Army has made it clear that its climate efforts are directed toward its core mission: “to fight and win the nation’s wars,” Paul Farnan, the Army’s acting assistant secretary for installations, said on Wednesday. , energy and the environment. “Each of these steps will increase the effectiveness of our combat force.”
Proponents of integrating climate change into military efforts say that in many cases it can actually improve the combat effectiveness of troops. In combat, supply lines that supply fuel to forward operating bases, Humvees and other combat vehicles are major targets of attack. Removing fossil fuels from the equation – or even simply improving the fuel efficiency of tanks and other heavy vehicles – can save soldiers’ lives.
This is what inspired Richard Nugee, one of the UK’s most senior generals, to draft a climate strategy for his country’s fighting forces last year. He said he was tired of top defense officials dismissing the climate as an afterthought. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has also made climate change a pillar of the defense alliance, and he made waves last year when he became the first NATO leader to attend at a United Nations climate conference.
Critics, however, say climate problems are distracting from the army’s core business. At best, skeptics say, they divert resources from bigger issues, like Russia’s potential invasion of Ukraine or strategic competition with China. At worst, critics say, they actually weaken the military.
“You talk about changing military operations. You talk about fighting wars in a different way in order to conserve energy,” said Mark Cancian, a former senior Pentagon official who once oversaw defense spending in the Office of Management and Budget.
What else is the Ministry of Defense doing at the moment on climate issues?
The Pentagon and individual military services are working to integrate climate issues into their planning. Over the past few weeks, the Ministry of Defense has signaled that it wants to switch to carbon-free electricity where it can and that it will start asking its contractors to tabulate emissions from bombs, planes combat gear and other military equipment they supply to the armed forces. forces.
This is in addition to a concerted effort to change the way the US military thinks about climate issues.
“Climate change threatens America’s security and alters the geostrategic landscape as we know it,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth wrote in a foreword to the strategy. “For soldiers today operating in extreme temperature environments, fighting wildfires and supporting hurricane recovery, climate change is not a distant future, it is a reality.”