Truman National Security Project

Climate Change Goes To War


This past week, floods in Europe have driven hundreds of thousands from their homes, killed more than 20 people and inflicted expected costs of more than $14 billion. Just the latest in a series of devastating storms – from the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma to Hurricane Sandy – these events demonstrate the effects of climate change on our world today.

Fortunately, there is something we can do to prepare our local communities for ever-stronger storms and waves. We should follow the military’s lead in tackling climate change, through investing in clean energy innovation.

Today, a consensus of national security and military leaders recognize climate change as a threat to our national security. As the Department of Defense reported, climate change will “act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.” Our generals and admirals understand the complex challenges presented by extreme weather, and are taking steps to prepare. Clean energy technologies are key to securing our country.

Rising sea levels on our coastlines will create refugee crises in some of the world’s poorest countries. More frequent and extreme weather events, like the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010, will drain budgets and cost lives. Resource scarcity will spark conflict and raze fragile states across the globe. A lack of food and clean water will cause populations to migrate, and that is a harbinger of war. Our national security leaders see climate change as a threat multiplier – meaning it can turn a threat into a catastrophe.

As a retired major in the U.S. Army, I couldn’t agree more about the need to increase our climate preparedness. We must build up the resilience of our local communities and accelerate clean energy deployment. That’s why I am joining a group of active and retired military leaders and local officials in Fayetteville in calling for bold action to secure America with clean energy.

As a major in the Virginia Army National Guard, I was responsible for overseeing the communications capabilities for a unit of more than 3,000 troops. Energy was critically important. If our generators ran out of fuel, soldiers in the battlefield could not communicate, putting them in grave danger. Renewable energy technologies would have secured our supply of power, and reduced risk for my fellow servicemembers.

Heading off the worst

Addressing climate change is a national security imperative and the U.S. military sees why every day. It will be involved in nearly every crisis precipitated or exacerbated by climate change, whether to provide disaster relief and recovery assistance at home, secure vital strategic interests abroad, or maintain international shipping lanes that are the lifeblood of global commerce. Every day, our armed forces grow more involved in counterterrorism activities in climate hot spots, like the battle against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Our men and women in uniform will have to bear this burden, and we must come together to lessen the weight.

America remains the world’s most powerful nation because our singular commitment to innovation has never wavered. The U.S. military is bringing that commitment to the front lines. The Air Force and Army are increasing the fuel efficiency of their thousands of combat, transport and support vehicles. The Navy is investing in advanced biofuels so it can power its ships and aircraft with fuels created and refined in America, instead of ones shipped from abroad. And Marines in Afghanistan are using compact solar technologies and developing enhanced energy storage solutions to reduce the number of fuel convoys supplying their combat outposts.

We’ve all benefited from the long history of military innovations that have strengthened our economy and revolutionized our way of life. The internet, GPS, and microwave all began as military research projects and quickly grew into entirely new civilian industries. Clean energy technologies can be the next military innovation success story.

Army’s role

To see the benefits of the military’s investments, look no further than our own Fort Bragg. The post is an integral part of the Fayetteville community, providing jobs and security. It also continues to be a leader in implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and in fact, one of its mission objectives is to actively exchange ideas and best practices with the region and surrounding communities. By investing in microgrid systems and onsite renewable energy generation, Fort Bragg is better equipped to respond in times when the civilian grid is down or during natural disasters when our community needs assistance the most.

Climate change is a threat, and it’s real. Let’s use these recent storms in Europe and Oklahoma as a wake-up call, and lead America into the next generation of innovation.

Chris Rey is a Truman Project Partner. This article originally appeared in The Fayetteville Observer.