National Security and Combating the Climate Crisis Go Hand in Hand

Major General Paul D Eaton

While in China in 1995, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton declared, "women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights, once and for all." It was a profound moment because in many places around the world, especially in China, the subjugation of women is seen as separate, often waved off as "cultural," and had not been called out until then.

"When we don't call out the issues our world is facing, we are ignoring them -- waving them off -- and that's what's happening right now with climate change."

When we don't call out the issues our world is facing, we are ignoring them -- waving them off -- and that's what's happening right now with climate change. Rather than face it head on, discussions regarding the climate crisis too often tend to pit the issue against our energy security. Specifically, by those who want to continue our reliance on fossil fuels -- over the development of homegrown, clean geothermal, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power -- say we must increase domestic drilling, mining, and more, as a matter of national security.

As someone who spent most of my adult life in uniform, commanding troops in war zones, I cannot be more clear: Renewable energy is security and security is renewable energy. But don't take my word for it, take the Defense Department's.

"As someone who spent most of my adult life in uniform, commanding troops in war zones, I cannot be more clear: Renewable energy is security and security is renewable energy."

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) found that, "the pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world." And, in 2014, while it found climate change "alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world."

And so the military has taken steps to lead the way on energy efficiency, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and reducing its carbon footprint.

"Through its 2016 Great Green Fleet initiative, the Department of the Navy met almost half its energy needs through renewables. And at sea, the Navy launched a strike group that was partly fueled by biofuels."

Many installations have been made more energy efficient, including housing for service members and their families. And both the Marines and the Air Force established offices to seek out new ways to become energy efficient, while the Army introduced an Energy Security Implementation Strategy, to make itself as energy efficient as possible. The key here is to incentivize local commanders for reducing the reliance on fossil fuels while maintaining a high quality standard of living.

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But, the Navy, under former Secretary Ray Mabus, showed some of the most exciting progress (and it pains me through and through, as an Army man, to admit that!). Through its 2016 Great Green Fleet initiative, the Department of the Navy met almost half its energy needs through renewables. And at sea, the Navy launched a strike group that was partly fueled by biofuels. That same commitment to energy efficiency continues today.

"If we cannot reverse the effects of the climate crisis, our Navy's readiness will be severely impacted."

The Navy has good reason to take the climate crisis seriously, and as a serious domestic matter, as well. Its naval shipyard at Norfolk is struggling with rising sea levels, and currently trying to triage some protection against the relentless waters, which have already risen 1.5 feet over the last century. They're cobbling together sea walls and using sandbags to try to hold the water at bay -- but it's merely a patchwork fix, not a long-term solution. If we cannot reverse the effects of the climate crisis, our Navy's readiness will be severely impacted.

Circling back to the QDR, you will notice I cited the 2010 and 2014 reports. But what about 2018?

"Under the Trump administration, the 2018 QDR eliminated the climate crisis as a security issue. That omission was particularly disturbing, given that then-Secretary James Mattis told the Senate, 'The effects of a changing climate ... impact our security situation.'"

Under the Trump administration, the 2018 QDR eliminated the climate crisis as a security issue. That omission was particularly disturbing, given that then-Secretary James Mattis could not have been clearer on the issue. In 2017, he told the United States Senate, "The effects of a changing climate -- such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others -- impact our security situation." So, clearly Secretary Mattis concurred with the 2010 and 2014 QDR's. This suggests that political actors in the Trump administration ordered no mention of the climate crisis in the 2018 QDR.

Much like Donald Trump's current stance on the COVID-19 pandemic -- that if you just don't test for it, it won't be as bad -- his administration seems to believe if you just don't mention the climate crisis, it's no longer a problem.

"The longer we allow our government to pretend the crisis doesn't exist, the more in danger we put our troops, our security, and ourselves; and the more draconian our solutions will have to be."

We are on a perilous course. The longer we allow our government to pretend the crisis doesn't exist, the more in danger we put our troops, our security, and ourselves; and the more draconian our solutions will have to be. As for our troops, a secondary effect of shifting away from fossil fuels is cleaner air, and healthier young men and women better able to pitch in and maintain our national security.

It is time to take the shackles off our military and allow them to act on the climate crisis in the way they do so well when faced with a challenge -- leading the way with innovation.