Blog Post | Energy | 04.16.17

National Security Challenges in the Age of Climate Change

Final - GRC briefing 03082017

Last month, Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change a threat to America’s military capability when he submitted Senate testimony that unequivocally states climate change is a threat to America’s national security.  In his testimony, Science Magazine reported, Mattis stressed that it was incumbent on the U.S. military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defense planners.

That climate threatens national security is not a new revelation.  For the Secretary of Defense in the climate-denying Trump administration to bluntly state it for the record – that’s seismic.  It means the largest institutional consumer of fuel and energy in the world – the U.S. military – will not retreat from its positions about the national security threats of climate change because of the change in leadership.

Just days before the Mattis statement, Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) working group staff met to talk about the climate-military-security nexus and how it could play out in Massachusetts.   Jim Goudreau, Head of Climate for Novartis and formerly Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, provided the expert military perspective.  Jim worked as part of the Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific, where he led energy and resilience strategy for the $171 billion, 730,000-person naval organization. He did not lack examples of why climate change makes it harder and riskier for the Navy to do its job. View the full presentation below.

  • Melting ice caps in the Arctic make travel possible for the first time in history.  This unsettled terrain makes it extremely dangerous to secure defense capabilities in this region.  
  • Entire island nations in Southeast Asia are sinking due to rising sea levels, creating massive numbers of climate refugees seeking asylum in other countries – a growing humanitarian issue.
  • In Africa and the Middle East droughts are straining already shaky relationships between countries that are scrambling for opportunities to harness depleting water supplies.

As global temperatures warm, fresh water depletes, sea levels rise, and weather patterns become more volatile, these scenarios will become more prevalent.

The U.S. military has been working on both mitigation and adaptation efforts for some time, understanding that they will have to continue to operate globally even as locales change as a result of climate impact. The U.S. military has been testing and developing energy technologies for decades to increase its operational capabilities, and many of those technologies are inherently more energy efficient and less carbon intensive. Here in Massachusetts, clean tech companies are partnering with military bases to deploy advanced energy technologies such as solar photovoltaics (PV) and community microgrids. The track record of military energy innovation here in the Baystate includes examples such as:

  • The development of one of the first PV systems and one of the first onsite combined heat-and-power systems in downtown Boston in 1999 at the Coast Guard J.F. Williams Building.
  • The installation of a cyber-secure microgrid that incorporates wind energy, solar, and battery storage at Joint Base Cape Cod – this system is one of the first large-scale microgrids to integrate significant amounts of renewable energy to enhance energy resilience.
  • The demonstration of emerging technologies for use in the field – the Fort Devens Base Camp Integration Lab tests new energy, water, and fuel-saving equipment such as solar shades and tactical quiet generator microgrids for use in missions around the world.

For Massachusetts, one question is how our corporate, academic, and health institutions can build ties with military bases to leverage their knowledge and experience into our work around climate mitigation and adaptation? Wilson Rickerson, Principal of Converge Strategies, LLC and a resilient energy strategy and policy expert, joined Jim Goudreau in addressing the GRC and led a conversation about potential opportunities for local military-private sector problem solving.

Some angles to consider include:

  • Expand the conversation.  Integrate national security and defense leaders more regularly into conversations about our energy future here in Massachusetts
  • Increase engagement with the military. Expand state and military cooperation on energy resilience through, for example, the Massachusetts Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force, direct engagement at the Headquarters or regional command level, and/or through policy and legislation (e.g. the California Energy Security Coordination Act of 2013).
  • Encourage joint resilience and energy investments. Introduce energy resilience more formally into state energy programs (e.g. clean tech programs), learn from military energy resilience planning efforts (e.g. the Resilient Energy Demonstration Initiative), and integrate advanced energy more fully into state planning efforts (e.g. storage and PV in energy assurance planning, etc.)

National security experts will continue to generate new ideas and strategies for maintaining operations and capabilities in a changing climate.  We in the wider community – including the businesses and institutions that comprise the GRC here in Boston – must be on the lookout for additional opportunities to partner and share best practices as we move forward to create a safer, more resilient world.

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