In 2007, the U.S. military establishment placed itself at odds with the Bush administration by recognizing the link between rising greenhouse gas emissions and the threats posed to national security by climate change. The urgency espoused by the Military Advisory Board, a panel of retired military chiefs, has since become part of the rhetoric of Obama’s team.
In February this year, the Department of Defense published the latest installment in military thinking on climate change. The Quadrennial Defense Review is the military’s key strategic document for the next 25 years. Some will be disappointed by the lack of prominence in the report given to mitigating the risks of climate change and fostering an alternative energy strategy, but the review continues to build on the paradigm shift underway in the military. The review’s findings make grim reading: rising sea levels will potentially call for relocation of populations, as well as military installations, away from coastal areas; environmental degradation and food scarcity could topple weak governments and lead to mass exoduses from endangered areas.
The military’s immediate answer is not quite in the revolutionary spirit of the times. Among the signature measures called for in the review are the limited use of biofuels in some aircraft and the purchase of 4,000 electric vehicles for noncombat duty. But the review does call for greater attempts at energy efficiency, from military bases to logistic support for combat troops. It is worth noting that the military is already the largest consumer of renewable energy in the country, and the sheer scale of its operations means that a commitment to reduced energy consumption can prove as important—and iconic—as Walmart’s much-lauded move toward sustainability.