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Climate Concerns:SPURS CHANGES IN U.S. MILITARY, by Col (Dr) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd.), 8 June 2010 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

NewDelhi, 8 June 2010

Climate Concerns


By Col(Dr) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd.)

Civil societiesand government are increasingly looking at the importance of climate change tomilitary operations and the importance of militaries in addressing andresponding to aspects of climate change.

Addressing a crowd of 400-odd people gathered to hear aboutthe significance of climate change to the U.S. national security recently,Nathaniel Fick, CEO of the Washington-based think tank Centre for a NewAmerican Security, made a note of how the first event that CNAS had hosted onthis topic drew only about 50 attendees in June 2008.

"Natural security issues areclearly taking hold, growing in importance, reaching new audiences, andbecoming more mainstream. And rightfully so," said Christine Parthemore,who directs the think tank's Natural Security Programme, which analyses theinterrelationship of natural resources and national security.

The event launched two new reports from CNAS examining thisrelationship. The impacts from extreme drought, heat waves, desertification,flooding, and extreme weather events such as hurricanes are all expected tocontinue to escalate as a result of climate change and are cited in CNAS's reportas reasons why the military needs to be prepared for a climate change-impactedworld over.

The 105-page report, titled 'Broadening Horizons: ClimateChange and the U.S. Armed Forces', says the effects of these environmentalevents will be amplified by existing socio-political factors. "Countriesand regions of strategic importance - from Afghanistanto the Arctic, China to Yemen - arelikely to confront major environmental pressures on both their societies andecosystems," it says.

Counter-insurgency expert and CNAS non-resident seniorfellow David Kilcullen also pointed to such phenomena as desertificationleading to humanitarian situations such as mass migrations. "These changesare happening now and they are impacting national security issues now," heasserted. 

The role of the military has movedfar beyond combat due to increasing humanitarian crisis, including the January2010 earthquake in Haiti,said Rear Admiral Philip Cullom, who heads the U.S. Navy's task force on energyissues. The acceleration of climate change will only exacerbate those crises.

Due to the scale of natural catastrophes, we are facing themilitarisation of humanitarian relief" since militaries are the onlyinstitutions with the capacity to deal with disasters of such massive scale, explainedthe Rear Admiral.

And even on a practical, day-to-daylevel, adapting to climate change will impact the armed forces. Transportationof fuel in combat zones is treacherous and requires personnel and money thatcould otherwise be used elsewhere.

The U.S.military has not been blind to this mountain of reasons why it should take steps to both address theirpreparation for the impacts of climate change and their own contributions tothese impacts. In February, the U.S. Department of Defence released itsQuadrennial Defence Review and, for the first time ever, identified climatechange as having an impact on its operations around the world.

"While climate change alonedoes not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability orconflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militariesaround the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increaseddemands for defence support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance ordisaster response both within the United States and overseas," thereview pointed out.

The report also laid out how themilitary is addressing climate-related issues, both in its own operations - interms of reducing the military's reliance on fossil fuels, for instance-- andin helping develop energy efficient and renewable technologies.

The Pentagon sees energy security – “assured access toreliable supplies of energy and the ability to protect and deliver sufficientenergy to meet operational need" - as a strategic priority, and one whichgreener energy can help it secure.

A report released by the Washington-based Pew Project onNational Security, Energy and Climate commended the U.S. military for its clean energyprogrammes. It pointed to the Department of Defence's goal of getting 25 per centof its electric energy from renewable sources by 2025, the U.S. Air Force'sgoal of meeting 25 per cent of base energy needs with renewable energy sourcesby 2025, and the U.S. Marine Corps' 10X10 campaign, which aims to reduce energyintensity and water consumption and increase the use of renewable electricenergy.

Along the way to those goals, the U.S. Navy is developing a"green" carrier strike group that will run on alternative fuels by2016. Last week, they successfully tested their "Green Hornet" jet,which runs on 50 per cent biofuel and 50 per cent fossil fuel. The "GreenHornet" more directly addresses energy independence that environmentalimpacts due to the energy and resources required to produce the biofuels, but itdoes also mean fewer emissions from military operations.

Fort Irwin, in south-eastern California's Mojave Desert,has been ground zero for many of the Department of Defence's green initiatives.Most notably, it is expected to become energy independent by 2022, when themilitary's largest solar installation is expected to be completed at the base.But one key difficulty in bringing the military up to date with the realitiesof a changing climate remains, says another report released by CNAS.

National security professionals"currently lack the 'actionable' data necessary to generate requirements,plans, strategies, training and material to prepare for future challenges"related to climate change, the report says. "Though the scope of andquality of available scientific information has improved in recent years, thisinformation does not always reach - or is not presented in a form that isuseful to - the decision makers who need it."

That gap in information may havebeen partly addressed at the event. For about 40 minutes, Carol Browner,director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, spokeand then answered questions on a variety of climate change-related issuesbefore the largely national security-focused audience.

Insofar as India is concerned, its Armytoo is doing its bit to help in reducing carbon emissions by encouraging itstroops to grow more trees and not deplete forests wherever they are stationed.That is why the cantonments all over the country have the largest greeneryaround it. It has also raised a number of Territorial Army Infantry Battalionsto protect the forest and help the civil population in growing more trees inthe deserted areas. The consciousness is growing and an army of people is doingits bit in responding to climate change.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and FeatureAlliance)

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