The Pentagon has taken climate change more seriously under the Biden administration. The Department of Defense’s 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance used the phrases “climate change,” “climate crisis,” or “climate emergency” 20 times, the same number of times it mentioned China and Russia.
The department has recently come up with a Climate Risk Analysis and a Climate Adaptation Plan to comply with President Joe Biden’s executive order on “tackling the climate crisis at homeYou can also find out more about abroad.” More policy changes are likely coming.
However, the department’s message in these documents remains the same as it has in past years, though it now employs a stronger emphasis: Climate change is real, it is driving security risks, and the military needs to be prepared to adapt.
These publications don’t commit the department not to mitigate climate change by lowering greenhouse gases emissions, switching to alternative fuels or meeting new efficiency standards. They only require adaptation to the effects.
While well-meaning, these developments focus on helping the Pentagon react to climate change and do little to address the military’s contribution to climate change.
US Military Carbon Emissions
According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the US Department of Defense is the “world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.”
Another report warns that US military carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be significantly underreported, as is the case for many other militaries around world.
It can consume up to 350,000 barrels of crude oil per day and accounts for about 80 percent of all fossil-fuels consumed by the federal Government. The DoD’s daily fuel consumption is so high it amounts to more than that used by most countries, including Portugal and Sweden.
If the Pentagon is serious in addressing climate change, it must make reducing its own contributions to the problem a key pillar of its plans.
Instead of focusing solely on climate change adaptation, the US military should consider green technology trends as a way to gain an edge over its enemies.
Fossil fuels are a long-standing constraining factor in operations. In 2003, ex-Marine general and Secretary of Defense James Mattis Famously Ask that the military be “unleashed from the tether of fuel.”
Alternative energy sources and fuel supply options could be of assistance to the US forces operate longer on less. Also, electric motors powered either by batteries or hydrogen fuel cell are quieter than internal combustion engines and run cooler. This allows them to be more competitive in contested environments and reduces their thermal signatures.
Alternative Energy Trend
Alternative fuel technology is booming within the commercial sector. The military should take advantage of this trend.
General Motors has declared that it’s on the way to an “all-electric future,” Ford expects to have as much of 50 percent of its total vehicle sales all-electric by 2030, Volkswagen expects nearly all of its cars to be “zero-emission” by 2040, and Volvo has committed to only selling electric vehicles by 2030.
Shipbuilders have also revealed new alternative-fueled designs such as a methanol fuelled towboat or a hydrogen fuel cells for smaller boats.
Alternative energy has taken to the skies as well. Airbus announced it would design and construct a family of hydrogen-powered aircraft. Embraer will invest in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
The DoD can benefit from the research and investment industry is already doing by being a “fast follower” and quickly adopting new technology. Failure to do this could lead to a future in which the military is left behind because vehicle manufacturers stop investing in internal combustion engine technology.
Militaries Become Carbon Conscious
While some say that reducing the Pentagon’s carbon footprint is an impossible or impractical goal, other militaries are already becoming more carbon conscious and taking strides to reduce their carbon consumption.
The UK’s Royal Air Force has set a goal of being carbon-neutral by 2040, marking the service a Defense leader in climate change policy and affirming its commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The Guinness World Record was broken by the RAF for the first flight of a fully synthesized-fueled aircraft. This opens the door to zero carbon aviation. #RAFNetZero2040 #OneStepGreener #sustainability #GuinnessWorldRecords #GWRDay @GWR pic.twitter.com/2SpvFV8F02
— Royal Air Force (@RoyalAirForce) November 17, 2021
This example can be used by the US military to reduce carbon emissions and cut its contribution to climate changes.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has also called for the alliance to “do its part to look into how we can reduce emissions from military operations,” arguing that new technology can reduce emissions and improve combat capability at the same time.
Green Energy Arms Race
The Department of Defense also has an opportunity to be a global leader in green military technology, but to do so, it has to compete in what some experts are calling a “green energy arms race.”
This is not only the best move for the climate but it can also be a winning strategy in competition with China, where President Xi Jinping has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2060.
Beijing identified renewable energy as a strategic area and invested state resources in it. industrial espionage against companies like Westinghouse Nuclear and Solar World to gain an advantage.
Pentagon investment in green technology competition can help maintain US technology dominance in critical sectors like batteries, electric vehicles, and solar power — and provide massive opportunities for US companies to sell their innovations worldwide.
Progressive climate policy is compatible with strategic competition.
Pentagon Must Scale up
Since years, the Pentagon has been observing the dangers of climate change and is increasingly dealing with the effects of severe storms or floods. It has also been successful in using renewable energy generation domestically, almost doubling the amount of renewable electricity generated between 2011-2015.
The military also has a number of pilot projects, including experiments and pilot projects. Hawaii hydrogen-powered vehicles and electricity generated from a landfill at a Marine Corps base in California.
But so far, nearly all the investment has been at bases within the US — far less effort has been put into operational energy, which is just as important.
If the Pentagon wants to tackle climate change, it must find ways to reduce its own contribution to the existing scattering of service-level initiatives.
The Department of Defense should Invest in alternative energy and fuels for new platforms and see other creative ways to start weaning itself off of fossil fuels used for operational energy at home and abroad.
If you have any questions, please contact us. US military fails to lead in “green lethality,” another country will, and it will reap the benefits as public pressure forces governments to commit to increasingly aggressive climate policies around the world.
Walker D. MillsHe is a United States Marine Corps Officer serving in Cartagena (Colombia) and is the 2021 Military Fellow with Young Professionals In Foreign Policy and a nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum.
These views are his own and do not reflect the views of the United States government, Colombian government or the United States Marine Corps.
These views and opinions are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.ct The Defense Post’s editorial position.
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