The United States military must cut its carbon footprint to prevail against rising superpowers and to overcome the threats posed by climate change, the Pentagon's recently released Quadrennial Defense Review declares.
Publicly presented 1 February and published every four years to present priorities the Department of Defense (DoD) will enlist to advance an updated strategy, the report illustrates the greening of the world's foremost military during the last couple of years. The evolution is a combination of political initiation and recognition by a nascent military and civilian cabal within the DoD that extreme weather events have and will continue to lay demands on the U.S. Armed Forces.
"Climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments," the report says.
The ongoing Darfur conflict in Sudan, according to the QDR, demonstrates the effects of a climate change war including the wider consequences for human security and regional instability. Over the last century a 40% reduction in rainfall has contributed to conditions leading to genocide and one of the largest refugee crises with which surrounding states and international organizations must contend.
In the South Pacific, the world's first climate refugees have been steadily evacuating their homes on Papua New Guinea's Carteret Islands, a 30km horseshoe shaped archipelago formation being consumed by rising sea water, likely uninhabitable by 2015.
Planning for threats to national security posed directly by climate change is evident elsewhere in other states. India, worried about a refugee crisis in neighboring Bangladesh, has begun erecting barbwire along the contiguous border, "pulling up the drawbridge" to insulate against the expected chaos.
The geopolitical side-effects from extreme weather patterns is moving the controversy surrounding man-made global warming to the back-burner, as evidenced by changing security strategies by states. "Climate change is a security issue because if we don't deal with it, people will die and states will fail," declared the UK's Special Representative for Climate Change, John Ashton, at a security conference hosted by the Institute for International and Strategic Studies in London.
The Department of Defense has not waded into the global warming debate, recognizing instead the clear and present dangers to its vital and strategic interests. Citing a 2008 National Security Council report on climate change, QDR names 30 U.S. military installations around the world currently threatened by rising sea levels, including the Diego Garcia island facility in the Indian Ocean, critical to operations in Asia and the Middle East. "In this regard, DoD will work to foster efforts to assess, adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of climate change," it says.
In recent years, military departments have invested significantly in solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy pursuant to an Executive Order requiring a 34% reduction in DoD’s production of greenhouse gasses--excluding ongoing operations--by 2020 versus 2008 levels.
The Air Force has adapted a majority of its planes for synthetic fuel use as part of its strategy to pump them with a 50-50 mixture of conventional and alternative fuels by 2016. It has also converted some of its facilities to cleaner power generation, including Nellis Air Force Base north of Las Vegas, which has cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 24,000 tons annually using 72,000 photovoltaic solar panels. Until last year, this was the largest solar farm in the United States.
The Fort Irwin solar facility in the Mojave Desert, which recently surpassed Nellis’ power production, will double over the next 13 years to produce 1,250 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy a year, enough to power the Fort Irwin facilities and sell surplus, according to Army officials. By comparison the monstrous Hoover Dam generates 2 gigawatt hours of hydro-electricity.
Fuel from buildings and vehicles account for 25% of all GHGs produced by DoD, making fuel efficiency the logical focus area to seek solutions. $1.7 billion was spent researching and developing new efficiency technologies in 2009, an 80% increase on the previous. Vehicles powered by electricity, hydrogen, compressed natural gas and hybrids have already begun replacing older and dirtier units.
The Army alone will replace or convert more than 70,000 of its vehicles, "exploring ways to exploit the opportunities for renewable power generation to support operational needs." Reducing the army's need for a constant delivery of fuel to the battle space would enhance its mobility and streamline force projection, freeing up resources dedicated to protecting fuel convoys, according to the QDR.
The Defense Department is the largest consumer of energy in the United States, and remains in particular vulnerable to wild swings in the crude market. When oil prices spiked in 2008, DoD’s annual bill shot up to $20 billion compared to $13 billion the two previous years.
"Our military’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels creates significant risks and costs at a tactical as well as strategic level," Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, Dorothy Robyn testified before Congress.
Opposition to the greening of the military has charged the Pentagon with politicizing national defense, claiming where QDR giveth to green, it taketh away from other programs vital to protecting the nation.
The top republican on the Armed Services Committee, Howard "Buck" Mckeon ripped the QDR for its misplaced "convictions," complaining how weapons purchases will essentially be suspended until the next four-year acquisition cycle because of a redistribution of priorities.
Other prominent defense critics noted the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act requiring DoD to incorporate climate change into the QDR proves political meddling. As President Obama becomes more politically vulnerable to attacks on his management of the economy, conservative commentators have accused the White House of using the defense budget to stimulate jobs in the green economy compromising national security.
$2.3 billion in tax credits have been made available for clean energy projects driven by American companies under a strategy that has coaxed $5 billion in private investment into the economy. This will create 41,000 “jobs that will pay well, jobs that will not be outsourced,” according to President Obama.
Cutting through the cloud of controversy, climate change has become a contingency for which the military takes seriously enough to commit resources toward coping and overcoming its impact.
General Anthony Zinni, former Head of Central Command, recently remarked on the subject: "We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives."