Military Bases Are Going Green After Climate Change Is Identified as a Threat
The United States military has a reputation for strength and toughness. “Sustainability” isn’t typically a term used in conjunction with their role, but climate change doesn’t discriminate. It impacts everyone, regardless of their role in society.
Defense forces need not adhere to international climate agreements out of fear that measuring their energy and emissions could undermine national security. However, there’s no mistaking war’s devastating impact on the planet. While ending international conflicts is a complex process that requires cooperation that doesn’t currently exist, the United States is nevertheless striving to improve where it can, especially in its daily operations.
The ultimate sustainability initiative is to end war. However, until that day comes, here is how military bases are going green after identifying climate change as a threat.
Climate change impacts everyone. It’s a national security threat, as increasing competition for dwindling resources could fuel international tensions. It’s also preventable and somewhat reversible if people act now — what human action has done, human action can undo. However, in the meantime, military bases face unique threats from climate change that have fortunately spurred meaningful action.
Personnel on military bases stand ready to address threats at a moment’s notice. However, climate change impacts their ability to do so. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods can disrupt capabilities, demanding time and attention better spent detecting invading forces.
Complicating matters is that the U.S. military has some of the most complex infrastructure on the planet, occupying all 50 states, seven territories and 40 foreign countries, with over 300,000 buildings worldwide. As an example of the threat, the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is a crucial hub for U.S. and British forces in the Middle East, but rising waters threaten the atoll with tsunamis. One recently gave them a scare, although everything emerged intact. Will their luck hold?
Fortunately, what’s good for the planet also benefits pocketbooks, at least in the long term. For example, transitioning to solar power frees military installations from fossil fuel use, easing demand for nonrenewable and costly energy. It also provides energy independence and enhances overall, as institutions that fulfill their electricity needs via the sun need no connection to a vulnerable grid.
Military innovations often spill into mainstream life, benefiting everyone. For example, public health accreditation improvements developed on bases inform private practice. The service’s full-scale review of procedures and processes for dealing with issues such as climate change’s effects on human physiology, mental health and vector-borne diseases transfer to the public sector, where they educate doctors who treat civilian patients.
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Ignoring climate change is a national security risk. The United States is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, meaning the choices made by military bases affect people who have never seen an American soldier.
For example, climate change threatens food production, as even a slight rise in global temperatures could result in crop failures. International tensions may flare amid shortages, threatening military members and civilians alike.
Climate change threatens delicate infrastructure. Thanks to the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, the U.S. military would hinder its effectiveness by failing to take proactive measures now. It’s among the biggest influencers of worldwide weather patterns. Fortunately, it’s already begun taking measures to mitigate the damage and turn the tide with more military bases going green.
U.S. military bases have begun going green to combat climate change by making the following upgrades.
Switching military bases to solar power makes good sense from a security and environmental standpoint. The power grid is vulnerable to infiltration, especially those that are overseas. Installations must create microgrids to isolate themselves from potential attack, and renewable energy is a far simpler and more cost-effective solution than essentially building independent fossil fuel generating facilities.
Here, too, military developments influence and improve civilian life. The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Medical Center in Phoenix features a parking lot covered by solar panels. The installation provides power to the facility, gives electric vehicle drivers a place to recharge and safeguards cars from the punishing Arizona sun.
Americans at home become more secure as other businesses follow suit. After all, most civilians rely on a steady electricity stream to go about their daily lives. An extended grid attack could disrupt commerce more severely than the recent pandemic, but transitioning facilities and communities to similar microgrids reduces their vulnerability. If one area loses power, it can get what it needs elsewhere.
2. Sustainable Transportation and Fuel Initiatives
Did you ever wonder how service members who spend years in the Middle East or other parts of the globe transport supplies and personal belongings back and forth? Entering these airspaces isn’t safe for standard shipping companies, and overseas installations employ specialty contractors to get personnel and needed goods to bases safely.
It’s not easy to find trained combat pilots to run such missions, meaning they make less frequent trips — maybe twice a month. However, this allows service members to take advantage of a shipping circle that reduces emissions by placing bulk orders instead of multiple, smaller ones. Here, too, civilians can learn from how the military addresses climate change by establishing similar practices with their families and friends.
E-vehicle use presents unique challenges in combat situations. However, military bases are going green in this area as well. The Army plans to release the first field purpose-built, hybrid-drive tactical vehicles in 2035, moving to fully electric models by 2050. It’s also working on converting all noncombat fleets to electric.
3. Energy Efficiency and Conservation
Even though many military bases are going green by switching to solar to combat climate change, the transition isn’t instantaneous. Conserving energy counts. Here are some of the energy-saving innovations various installations have recently implemented that deserve a salute:
- The Pentagon: Recommissioning has resulted in an 11% reduction in energy use since 2010.
- Camp Pendleton: The Marines here achieved a 44% reduction in energy consumption six years ahead of the goal mandated by Executive Order 13123.
- Naval Air Station Oceana: Successfully cut energy use intensity by 52% in 2013 through equipment upgrades, ground-source heat pump installations and lighting improvements.
- Wright-Patterson Air Force Base: Successfully salvaged a historic hangar while reducing energy use by 30% through improved insulation, stringent HVAC requirements, high-efficiency glazing, reduced exterior lighting and occupancy sensors.
4. Waste Management
Waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions by creating methane around landfills. This gas is considerably heavier than carbon dioxide, contributing to rising temperatures.
However, many military bases are going green by adopting zero-waste principles, including recycling. For example, AR 200-1 requires installations to operate a qualified recycling program to handle the following:
- Paper and paper products
- Metal cans
- Used motor oil
- Ferrous and nonferrous scrap metal
- Firing range expended brass
Other zero-waste principles further increase security, independence and environmental sustainability. For example, composting programs on bases provide rich soil for nurturing crops on-site, protecting troops from hunger in cases of supply disruptions and decreasing shipping emissions.
What does the future look like regarding military bases going green to combat climate change? Here’s a quick look at the remaining challenges and what the armed forces are doing to address them.
The Army Reserve takes a two-pronged approach to addressing the effect of climate change on infrastructure:
For example, it works in coordination with the Army’s Integrated Strategic and Sustainability Planning process to create a blueprint for the continued greening of military bases. The Installation Energy and Water Plans identify resiliency measures that reduce outside reliance on water and energy to prevent disruptions. Enterprise-building control systems better conserve these resources.
Additionally, it’s laying the foundation for an all-electric, nontactical vehicle fleet. This solution would replace fossil fuel-powered ambulances, buses and delivery fleets, slashing emissions.
Solar isn’t the only source of renewable energy —so is wind. Collaboration between the Federal Energy Management Program, academic institutions and private enterprises enables military bases to go green by using this technology. Installations for wind energy on bases have tripled since 2010, with more than 100 projects currently in place and more on the way.
Military bases will continue to lead efforts to go green, if only out of necessity. For example, one pressing need for overseas microgrids is sufficient battery storage to ensure an ongoing power supply. Hemp batteries have already shown promise in advancing such storage without the negative environmental impact of lithium mining. With its desire for all-electric fleets, will the military perfect the technology to make these sustainable devices feasible for civilian EVs?
The military receives a considerable percentage of U.S. tax dollars. In years past, it did so in exchange for keeping civilians safe from foreign invaders. Now, it can use that money to protect humanity as a whole from its most pressing threat — climate change.
Climate change affects everyone, and it’s natural to feel distressed at the magnitude of the problem. However, it should calm minds to know U.S. military bases are going green, leading the charge to a more sustainable future. Doing so makes economic sense and protects national security.
Draw encouragement from the green innovations military bases have adopted and continue to innovate. These technologies spill over to civilian life, keeping the planet cleaner while providing civilians with sustainable products and methods to preserve humanity’s only habitat.
About the Author
Beth Rush is the Managing Editor at Body+Mind and a lover of all things health and wellness. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on a variety of topics related to nutrition, fitness, holistic health and disease prevention. In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking healthy recipes and trying out new fitness trends.