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DOD Official Says U.S. Faces Climate Change Crisis

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Climate change absolutely affects national security, said the senior climate advisor to the secretary of defense.

A man stands at a podium with a U.S. flag in the background.
Pentagon Briefing
Joe Bryan, senior climate advisor to the secretary of defense, speaks virtually to the Department of Energy's Energy Exchange forum, Aug. 2, 2021.
Photo By: DOD Screenshot
VIRIN: 210802-O-D0439-001

Speaking yesterday to the Department of Energy's Energy Exchange forum, Joe Bryan said:

  • The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the planet -- opening up competition with China and Russia over sea routes and mineral wealth. 
  • Across Africa and the Middle East, drought and rising temperatures drive insecurity, increasing demands on fragile states and contributing to food scarcity, migration and security concerns. 
  • Longer typhoon seasons threaten millions of people across Southeast Asia and challenge countries' capacity to respond. 
  • Extended drought in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala contributes to migration north. 
  • Military exercises have been paused or altered due to hurricanes and typhoons.
  • Military installations have had to be evacuated due to wildfires out West.
  • Hurricanes and flooding have recently resulted in billions of dollars in installation infrastructure damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida ($5 billion); Camp Lejeune, North Carolina ($3 billion) and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska ($400 million).

But there is some good news. Bryan mentioned that the market for energy technologies is evolving fast, saying that renewables were the only energy source for which demand increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Energy Agency's Renewable Energy Market Update for 2021. IEA predicted that renewables will account for 90% of new power capacity additions globally over the next two years. "And that’s not just because renewables are clean — it’s because they are competitive," Bryan said.

A pilot flies a plane.
Hurricane Hunter
Air Force Maj. Stephen Pituch, pilot in command, flies the WC-130J Hercules into Hurricane Florence during a Hurricane Hunters mission out of Savannah Air National Guard Base, Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia, Sept. 13, 2018.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben
VIRIN: 180913-F-PS957-0179C

In the auto sector, the global market is going electric, with Volvo becoming all-electric by 2030, General Motors by 2035, and Ford in Europe by 2030. In addition, Volkswagen will bring 70 new electric models to market by the end of this decade, and 50% of the cars they sell in the U.S. and Chinese markets will be electric by 2030. 

"The world is changing, and we at the Department of Defense can’t afford to stand still. We need to compete for the energy technologies that will define the future. Our economy — and military capability — depend on it," he said.

The department’s forthcoming Climate Adaptation Plan's objective, he said, is to ensure the DOD can operate under changing climate conditions, preserving operational capability and enhancing the natural and man-made systems essential to the department’s success.

A photo shows multiple solar panels.
Solar Panels
Solar panels provide clean and renewable energy sources for Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., as part of a Corps-wide initiative to decrease reliance on the electric grid, Oct. 6, 2016.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jake McClung
VIRIN: 161006-M-EH415-070C

Bryan mentioned some DOD success stories:

  • Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, built a microgrid capable of powering critical missions even when the grid goes down. During a heat wave last summer, Miramar took 6 megawatts off the grid for several hours to help the local utility company deal with exceptionally high demand and prevent rolling blackouts, preserving the grid for everyone.  
  • Earlier this year, the Army’s Schofield Barracks in Hawaii disconnected from the grid for a day and a half without losing mission capability. 
  • DOD and other government agencies are working to go to electric vehicle fleets.

"We need more of that, and one of the best ways to get there is to build partnerships and collaborate," he said. "DOD and DOE, for example, have a memorandum of understanding that enables us to work together on innovative energy technologies."

A fleet of electric work trucks sit in a parking area.
Staged Trucks
Electric work trucks are staged for movement at a supply depot in Caguas, Puerto Rico, following damages caused by Hurricane Maria several months before, May 19, 2018.
Photo By: Army photo by Patrick Moes
VIRIN: 180519-A-LI073-0033

For instance, DOD and DOE recently demonstrated an air-source heat pump at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, he said.

There are lots of other DOD/DOE opportunities for collaboration from batteries and energy resilience to zero emissions vehicles, he added.

"Success in transforming the energy sector depends on collaboration across the government and with the private sector," he said.

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