Catastrophic climate change is just around the corner. The top scientists are unified in the stance that the window is rapidly closing for the global community to decarbonize before we reach a tipping point. We are running out of time to avoid irreparable harm to the environment with consequences that we cannot walk back. A preteen girl sailed across the Atlantic to scold world leaders at a UN summit – and was invited to do so and given a stage and a microphone for a speech that rocked the world and dug political divisions even deeper.
The world’s premier authority in the matter, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has gathered data from the top climate scientists around the world in a damning report that says that if we have any chance of staying within 1.5 degrees Celsius above average pre-industrial temperatures we will have to cut our carbon emissions down to ZERO by the middle of the century – a feat that seems all but impossible. The 1.5-degree threshold is the one set by the Paris agreement, which United States President Donald Trump – leader of the free world as well as the leader of the second-largest carbon-emitting country in the world, – backed out of in 2017.
Despite Trump’s climate change skepticism and his refusal to commit to decreasing his nation’s carbon emissions, a poll conducted last month confirms that the majority of his constituents still support the Paris climate accord. As reported by Time Magazine, “while the administration has rolled back regulations to cut emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from power and industrial plants and pushed for more coal use, large groups of Americans say they want just the opposite, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.”
While partisan debates continue to rage about climate change, carbon taxes, and Greta Thunberg, one of the world’s largest and most powerful organizations has quietly been leading the charge for new clean energy technologies – and the identity of that organization may shock you. As more and more damning and solidly backed evidence has come out in support of the reality of climate change and the dire need to innovate our global energy landscape to move away from fossil fuels toward cleaner energy alternatives, some of the greatest, most high-tech clean energy innovations have been coming out of the United States’ Department of Defense. We all know that money talks, and the U.S. military is saying a lot with the $1.6 billion it is spending each year on energy research, development, test and engineering (RDT&E). Without ever coming out in vocal support of climate change science, the Department of Defense is saying loud and clear that they are worried about the future of energy and the instability of a planet in a climate crisis. In an article titled “The U.S. military is quietly going green,” business news site Quartz reported that “U.S. defense leaders recognize the threat of climate change, even if their commander-in-chief doesn’t.” The article goes on to say that “American military strategists have long viewed climate change as a “threat multiplier.” The Pentagon, in its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, said the changing weather will “aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.”
“Climate change is a security threat primarily because it multiplies and complicates existing security risks,” says independent military news site Stars and Stripes. For example, drought can exacerbate regional instability by causing mass migrations or skirmishes over water rights. Changes in climate also have real and lasting effects on American military installations. An uptick in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, hurricanes and flooding in the United States has already affected key bases.” According to Stars and Stripes reporting, “a Pentagon report earlier this year concluded that about two-thirds of 79 major military installations are vulnerable to flooding, while half are susceptible to drought. Half of them are at risk to wildfires.”
As public policy expert Dorothy Robyn recently wrote in an op-ed for the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy, “the magnitude of DoD’s investment in energy RDT&E reflects the importance of energy to the military mission: the armed forces rely on energy for everything they do, which is why they are this country’s biggest energy consumer. […] DoD’s investment in energy RDT&E also reflects the military’s characteristic pursuit of advanced technology as a force multiplier. As you well know, military requirements have been the driver for countless innovations, including radar, GPS, lasers, computers and semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and the Internet.” The article, tellingly titled “The U.S. Military’s Key Role in Advancing Clean Energy Innovation” goes on to say that “despite being driven by military needs, DoD’s investments in energy RDT&E can be a significant catalyst for civilian clean energy innovation.”
CleanTechnica has also reported that “the U.S. military has been front and center in the renewable energy revolution,” citing the fact that “military bases in the US have also become showpieces for microgrids and energy efficiency upgrades that foster resiliency and cut costs, too.” In a separate article CleanTechnica also reported way back in 2014 that the U.S. military was already in the midst of a massive $7 billion renewable energy buy covering solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal.
Today, the projects underway over at the Department of Defense are even more high-tech and innovative, operating at the cutting edge of energy tech with the potential to change clean energy as we know it. Energy expert Dorothy Robyn’s BU article lists some of the energy tech projects that the military is currently pioneering, including Solar PV, which would “enable longer missions for foot soldiers, extend the flight duration of drones, and reduce the dependence of forward-operating bases on transported fuel,” as well as microgrids and stationary storage, which “enable longer missions for foot soldiers, extend the flight duration of drones, and reduce the dependence of forward-operating bases on transported fuel.”
DSIAC: Laser-powered drone equipped with PV cell.
Robyn’s op-ed goes on to conclude that, “in sum, this country needs to use every weapon in the energy arsenal to fight climate change, and technological innovation is perhaps the most powerful. DoD’s warfighting mission, without directly intending to do so, is creating valuable new “weapons” to be used in that critical fight.”
Regardless of the reasons the U.S. military is leading the clean energy tech movement, the message is clear: the Department of Defense clearly believes that climate change is a real, relevant, and present threat, and so should we. If we are to accept the DoD’s actions as leadership, it is high time to act and respond to the reality of climate change. We know what to do. Now it’s time to do it.