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Climate Change Has National Security Implications, DOD Official Says

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Understanding and dealing with climate change is important to national security and, therefore, to the Defense Department, the senior climate advisor to the defense secretary said.

"Climate change effects are real and they are significant," he said. "Climate change is going to cost us in resources and readiness; and the reality is that it already is," Joe Bryan today told the Congressional Clean Energy EXPO and Policy Forum.

A man looks at a computer video camera during a video conference.The sign behind him indicates that he is speaking from the Pentagon.
Joe Bryan
Joe Bryan, senior climate advisor to the defense secretary, speaks at the Congressional Clean Energy EXPO and Policy Forum, July 26, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 210726-D-XI929-1003

Bryan cited some examples:

  • As the Arctic warms up, competition for resources and influence in that region is heating up.
  • Extended drought in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is driving migration north to the United States' southern border.
  • Water resources are at risk in the Middle East due to extended drought and extreme heat conditions that threaten regional security and prosperity.
  • Stronger hurricanes and typhoons, flooding, droughts, heat waves and wildfires are adversely affecting military operations and exercises at home and abroad at an increasing and alarming rate.

In response to climate change, DOD is working to become more energy efficient and independent, Bryan said.

For instance, some bases are becoming more energy efficient by bringing energy storage and distributed generation inside the installations, using energy derived from landfill gas and solar, he said.

A man in a uniform operates a rolling compactor as it travels down a dirt road. Two other men in uniform stand to the side of the road.
Road Repairs
Army Sgt. Shenna Taylor, a heavy equipment operator with the 1782nd Engineer Company, South Carolina National Guard, drives a rolling compactor during local road repairs in Ruby, S.C., after Hurricane Florence, Sept. 30, 2018.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Erica Knight
VIRIN: 180930-Z-DH163-1015M

About two-thirds to three-fourths of DOD energy is consumed by systems like airplanes and ships, not facilities on installations, he noted.

"We know that we're not going to get a free pass to push fuel into theater; so we can't be aggressive enough in reducing operational energy demand," he said about the need to ship fuel overseas to power planes, ships and vehicles.

Bryan cited several ways DOD is reducing operational energy demand, including deploying hybrid-electric tactical vehicles, making engine improvements on ships so less fuel is consumed and reducing airplane drag to improve fuel efficiency.

People place sandbags during a flood.
Flooded Road
Members of the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, work with German first responders and community members to deliver sandbags to the town of Binsfeld, Germany, July 14, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Warren Spearman
VIRIN: 210714-F-BN774-1059C

"These investments are a priority because they're great for the mission — and they're quite good for the climate, as well," he said.

President Joe Biden has made domestic production of lithium-ion batteries a priority, Bryan mentioned. That investment is closely tied to electric vehicle deployment in the federal vehicle fleet, including DOD's vehicles.

"The commercial EV [electric vehicle] industry is actually critical to DOD capability. The scale and shift to electrical transportation is massive and fast," he said.

A firefighter is surrounded by orange flames.
Orange Wildfire
A firefighter works during the Creek Fire in the Cascadel Woods area of Madera County, Calif., Aug. 27, 2020.
Photo By: Josh Edelson, Marine Corps
VIRIN: 200827-M-TR039-416A

Currently, China dominates the lithium-ion battery sector, and that's a problem since military capability depends on batteries, he said.

The Navy alone has 2,000 to 3,000 systems that rely on lithium-ion batteries. Future capabilities — from unmanned systems to directed energy weapons — all rely on lithium ion, he said.

"We need the commercial EV industry to drive supply chain investment back to the United States," he noted.

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