ROY WILSON: Thank you. Well, good afternoon, everyone.
First of all, let me just welcome everyone to this very important and very timely event with a conversation with the Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks, and we're very, very honored to host you. This is the -- excuse me, the second person in command of the Department of Defense. She oversees the operations and personnel of the entire U.S. military, so that's a pretty big job, and we're thrilled to be able to provide this forum with Dr. Hicks will discuss the strategic threats and challenges facing our nation, particularly with the emergence of climate change. And how the Pentagon is working to meet these critical issues, speaking of climate change it's the second week of November and its 60 degrees outside, case in point.
Wayne State University has been here in Detroit for a very long time. Detroit's our home. Our home otherwise known as the "Motor City", has also been called the arsenal of democracy. This dates to World War II when Detroit led an unprecedented mobilization of industry to produce the tanks, trucks and airplanes that defeated fascism. Now the U.S. military's working with Detroit again, this time to take on the threat of a warming planet to turn the ingenuity and productive capacity of our automobile industry to help America and the world overt a climate disaster. Researchers at Wayne State are playing a vital role in deepening understanding of a climate crisis and then developing ways to reduce emissions that warm the planet.
The last 20 months have taught us how small our world is and how much can be accomplished when industry, academia and the government come together to tackle a devastating threat like a global pandemic. We face another potential devastating threat in climate change that is already evident in the extreme weather events that have become all too routine. Once again, industry, academia and government must come together to address the causes of climate change and mitigate their effects. That is what brought Deputy Secretary Hicks to Detroit, and to Wayne State's campus.
The U.S. military's pursing comprehensive strategy both to respond to heightened risks of climate change and reduce the armed services contribution to climate change. We are so please to have Dr. Hicks on campus and we look forward to her talk and a lively Q&A to follow. We also look forward to continue to be a partner with the Department of Defense and the auto industry help America rise to the challenges posed by climate change and other environmental concerns, and with that I'd like to turn things over to Rick Bierschbach, the Dean of The Wayne State University Law School. Thank you all very much for being here.
RICHARD BIERSCHBACH: Thank you President Wilson and welcome everybody. I just wanted to officially welcome you all on behalf of Wayne State Law School and thank you all for being here, and in particular to thank the people who made this event possible. So Dr. Hicks, thank you so much to you and your team for making time for us. We are so honored to have you here, and to the Levin Center, thank you all for working so hard to pull this together on pretty short notice. The Levin Center was created here at this law school in 2015 to carry on the legacy, the legislative oversight legacy of Michigan's longest serving Senator, Senator Carl Levin. And since then, it's really blossomed, in particular, Jim Townsend who started this off, became the center's executive director in 2019 and has really expanded the center's operations and its footprint.
It does a lot of work nationally, a lot of work in our nation's Capitol. It has become the premier academic center on the art and practice of legislative oversight, and its relationship to good government, which as we all know is an increasingly important topic in these times. So we are honored to have the center here, have it be a part of this law school which itself has a long legacy of producing public servants, and because of that we are especially honored to host this event here today. So thank you all for being here, and Jim I'll turn it back over to you.
JIM TOWNSEND: Thank you President Wilson and thank you Dean Bierschbach, well before I get to the -- the real honor that I have to introduce the deputy secretary. I do want to say a couple additional words about Senator Levin and about the Levin Center, just a few more things. As -- as Rick mentioned, Senator Levin was Michigan's longest serving U.S. Senator. One of the things though that people should also know, especially at this event, is that he served on the Armed Service Committee for his entire career, and he chaired the Armed Services Committee for 10 years or just about 10 years. And one of the things he is most proud of, of what -- you know, one of the things that he really -- he felt made a difference, was the work he did with the Defense Department and the automotive industry to bring them together to find ways, create new processes, that could bring them together and enable them to work together.
And really the work that Deputy Secretary Hicks is doing here today, talking with the automotive industry and with others about how we're going to tackle climate change, is an outgrowth in many ways of his vision and his leadership. So we -- we really appreciate getting this opportunity to -- to be with you, and to -- to -- and to hear your words today. It means an awful lot to us. The other thing I want to say is that this is the first public gathering that we have been able to have here at the Levin Center since Senator Levin passed away on July 29th, and so with that in mind I thought it might be appropriate for us to take a moment -- take a moment of silence in recognition of Senator Levin's passing. So if -- if you would join me in that.
(MOMENT OF SILENCE)
MR. TOWNSEND: Thank you.
So, just a -- a -- a little bit more about the Levin Center and then I'll -- I'll get to the really important topic of the day. Our mission is to advance bipartisan, fact-based oversight, and it is something that until a few years ago I think a lot of people were not sure about, you know, what oversight is and how important it is for lawmakers, for public officials to embrace a process of finding the truth, of getting at the truth. And being able to work in a way that sets partisanship at least to some degree, to the sidelines in the pursuit of facts and now what we've obviously come to realize is this is an urgent concern, an urgent concern for our democracy. We can't have reason to be, we can't come across the aisle and create legislation that works unless we can at least agree on -- on a basic set of facts and a way -- a way of ascertaining those facts. And finally, when we can't do that, we open the door to people who want to spread misinformation and disinformation in a way that will destroy our democracy.
And so we are really in a -- a place to fight against that, and the -- and what the Levin Center does everyday is work with lawmakers and Congress and in state legislatures around the country, to try to understand how they can do better oversight, how they can advance themselves, but do it in a way that reaches across the aisle. Not to agree on the solution, but to agree that there's a way that we can fact find together that works and is credible. So we -- I -- I just wanted to mention that to -- to all of you, because it's so important to what we're really talking about today. One of the things that's really impeding our efforts to tackle climate change is our inability to come together around a basic set of facts concerning climate change, and so I think its really important that we -- that we get -- that we get to that point and -- and talk about that.
So, I want to now turn -- turn to introducing Deputy Secretary Hicks. We -- we are so privileged that she's with us today. Dr. Kathleen Hicks serves as the 35th Deputy Secretary of Defense. She was sworn in to that office on February 9th of this year, and prior to becoming Deputy Secretary, Dr. Hicks held the position of Senior Vice-President and Director of International Security of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Dr. Hicks earned her Ph.D. in political science at -- at MIT. Over the last decade, Dr. Hicks has played a central role in shaping our force capabilities, overseas military posture and campaign plans.
And as President Wilson mentioned, in her current capacity she is the COO of a 3 million person operation at the Defense Department. And as the second in command at the Department of Defense, Dr. Hicks is the highest ranked woman in history of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military. So with that, I hope you will join me in welcoming Dr. Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary of Defense.
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE KATHLEEN HICKS: Thank you so much to all of the leaders here at Wayne State University for hosting me this afternoon, and I'm so honored to be speaking and to be the first speaker since the passing of Carl Levin. Senator Levin was a giant in the Senate and the work he did on legislative oversight, of course, is the focus of this center. That as Director Townsend just pointed out, he also had two other aspects of his career that resonate with me, and with the work we're engaged on at the Department of Defense. First, he was deeply invested in America's national security. He chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee from 2001 to 2003, and again from 2007 until 2015. In fact, he was the chairman during my first confirmation hearing in 2012 to become the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
So I'm very grateful to him for shepherding my confirmation then. Senator Levin's influence on defense matters still looms especially large, and Michigan remains vital to advancing our nation's security. Relying on the regions industrial and manufacturing base, the Department of Defense invested $6.8 billion in Michigan's economy in Fiscal Year 2020 alone, and the department works closely with many of Michigan's academic institutions like Wayne State. Continuing to encourage our nation's students to apply their skills in areas like STEM, is critical to a strong defense industrial base. Second, being in Detroit, of course Senator Levin is a Detroit native and he cared deeply about Michigan and about America's automobile industry.
He was a true champion of the people living in this state. That Michigan led industry has played such an important role in America's growth during the 20th century and it will once again be at the center of helping us solve climate change in the 21st century. Today my remarks will touch on both of these areas, national security and the automobile industry. I'll be speaking about climate change as a national security challenge, and outlining how the automotive innovations happening here in Detroit can help us tackle the climate crisis. But before proceeding any further, I want us to take a moment to acknowledge Joe Bryan, my colleague, with us this afternoon. Joe is the department's first Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Climate and he spent years working as a staff member for Senator Levin, and he was just telling me how fond he was of Senator Levin and what an incredible mentor and boss he was.
I know Senator Levin would be very proud to see the great work that Joe is doing at DOD to advance America's security, and advance us against climate change. Climate change is a crisis for the entire planet. Like President Biden said just last week, climate change is already raving the world. It's not -- not a hypothetical. It's not a hypothetical threat. Climate change is not a tomorrow problem, it's a problem right now. And just as that is true for everyone here, it’s also true at the Department of Defense. In the western United States, wildfire seasons continue to worsen. In fact, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Daniel Hokanson has remarked that the fire season has simply become fire year. Over the past five years for example, the number of personnel days that the National Guard has dedicated to firefighting has increased from 14,000 person days to more than 176,000 days. In the Arctic, climate change effects ice melt and its opening the region to new strategic challenges, including from Russia and China.
And due to rising sea levels and low elevation, areas like the Marshall Islands home to critical defense assets like the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, are increasingly at risk of disappearing or becoming uninhabitable. Climate change continues to create extreme weather events, which increase the demands on our military while simultaneously affecting the military's capacity to respond. And every dollar that we spend recovering from the effects of climate change, is a dollar that the department is not investing to meet other priorities. In the face of these increasingly challenging conditions, the Department of Defense must remain ready to defend the nation. In line with President Biden's Executive Order entitled "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad", the Department of Defense recently released two plans.
The first is the DOD Climate Adaptation Plan. It provides a roadmap to ensuring the department maintains the ability to operate under changing climate conditions. It sets a path to a lighter, leaner, more survivable and agile force that is trained and equipped to operate in all climatic conditions. The second plan, the DOD Climate Risk Analysis is focused on the geo-strategic and mission implications of climate change. It is the framework for shared department wide understanding of climate change and its effects. These reports will help guide the department as we adapt to climate, but the science is clear. As a nation and a department, we must do our part to mitigate climate change itself. The president has set an aggressive goal for the U.S. to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The department is committed to meeting the challenge, by making significant changes in our use of energy and increasing our investments in clean energy technology. In pushing toward net zero emissions by 2050, the Department of Defense is developing a sustainability plan to meet our climate goals. It will set a path for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing our energy, water and waste efficiency, and enhancing sustainable procurement on supply chains. Additionally part of the sustainability plan will be focused on developing a zero emissions non-tactical vehicle fleet, we also know that we need to optimize energy use in our tactical vehicles. At DOD, these climate change objectives align closely with our mission. Tactical vehicle electrification, initially through hybrid electric technology, has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but it should also provide significant operational capability.
Electric vehicles are quiet. They have a low heat signature, and incredible torch, and because they tend to be low maintenance with fewer moving parts. They have the potential to reduce logistics requirements, all with these attributes can help give our troops an edge on the battlefield. But we need partners to help capitalize on this potential and Detroit, the heart of America's automotive industry, is going to be fundamental to achieving these goals. We can't do it without you and without America's private sector. As an example, currently the Department of Defense has about 170,000 non-tactical vehicles. The cars and trucks we use on our bases. That's the largest fleet in the Federal government, next to the U.S. Postal Service. Our success in transitioning this massive fleet to zero emissions, most of which will be electric, will depend on America's auto industry and autoworkers right here in Detroit.
The same is true of our tactical vehicles. Earlier today, I had the opportunity to travel to Warren, Michigan and visit both General Motors Defense Tech Center and the Army's Ground Vehicles Systems Center. At the GM site, I saw first hand how electric vehicle development in the commercial sector can translate to military capability. At the Army center, I saw some of the progress that we're making in the department itself. The Army center, for instance, is developing a vehicle centric micro-grid, designed to provide on the go power for our next generation combat capabilities. At General Motors, I also had the opportunity to tour their battery lab. Battery technology and lithium ion batteries specifically, are the lifeblood of electrification and the future auto industry, but batteries are also essential to thousands of military systems from handheld radios, to unmanned submersibles and to future capabilities like lasers, directed energy weapons and hybrid electric tactical vehicles.
A healthy battery supply chain is essential to the military. When it comes to batteries, America needs to lead the world. That means innovation, but it also means manufacturing, ensuring we have healthy supply chains to get what we need, when we need it. It is estimated that investment committed to the global lithium ion battery supply chain is approaching $1 trillion. The problem, however, is that China presently dominates that supply chain. I know that Michigan's congressional delegation, including Senators Peters and Stabenow care deeply about supply chain issues, as do I. Improving the U.S. competitive position will create resilience of our domestic supply chains, and this will bring jobs to America and ensure our national security. DOD is committed to working with industry to increase resiliency in the supply chain, which strengthens our industrial base.
The department has joined the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries, which is interested in ensuring a domestic supply of lithium batteries, and is committed to accelerating the development of a robust and secure domestic industrial base. And as part of that consortium, we released a national blueprint for lithium batteries which informs how we will work to secure a sustainable lithium battery supply chain. While the department is a large customer of lithium batteries, we know that it is ultimately the U.S. private sector that will drive the investment in these supply chains. We need the commercial electric vehicle industry if we are going to bring supply chain investment back to the United States. We also know that the Department of Defense can sometimes be a difficult customer. We have complex requirements and bureaucratic contracting processes.
We know we need to change that if we want to leverage technology for defense capability, and we want to make our automaker and other industry partners help us do so. The transition to electric transportation relies on more than EVs. We also need to make sure the electric grids in our communities and on our military installations are up to the challenge. The department is seeking solutions from our industry's partners to help manage the new demands on our electric systems. We have a lot of work to do before we're able to reach net zero emissions by 2050. But just this past weekend, the Biden Administration took an important step forward with passage of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. It is a once in a generation investment that will create millions of jobs and modernize America's infrastructure, and it does so while helping us combat climate change by investing in some of what I've talked about today including electric vehicles, batteries and the creation of a first ever national network of charging stations.
It will allow us to make advancements in our own clean energy supply chains and start exporting to the world. Additionally, the House of Representatives also advanced President Biden's "Build Back Better" Act, which proposes a $555 billion investment in clean energy without raising the deficit. This will be the largest single investment in our clean energy in history. Communities like Detroit will be at the heart of the energy transition. For more than 100 years, Detroit has been central to American automotive manufacturing and center stage for innovation in the United States. It was great to be able to travel here today and to see, first hand, how that legacy continues.
Confronting climate change requires all hands on deck, as we say at the Department of Defense. Detroit is a city that brings together leaders in the automotive industry, government partners like the Department of Defense, and academic institutions. It's a vibrant ecosystem that tracks and leverages some of the best talent in America, and it will be vital to combating the challenge of a changing climate. Thank you for hosting me today and thank you for your continued contributions to increasing our national competitiveness, leading on the global stage and making our nation more secure.
MR. TOWNSEND: Okay. I'm afraid I didn't emphasize this enough when I was speaking at the beginning. We are now going to move to a Q&A session, and everybody in the audience is welcome to come forward with -- with any questions that you might have. We have a microphone here that we'd ask everybody, you know, sort of social distancing reasons to -- to use and -- and so please come forward with questions. Any question is, you know, okay and we're very interesting in hearing it. Maybe I'll kick things off Dr. Hicks with, you know, just sort of a -- a general question. How are you working with partners and allies to combat climate change globally? What are your main priorities? What sorts of partnerships are you building?
DR. HICKS: Sure, so we incorporate climate into everything that we do, from how we develop strategy and planning, all the way down through our research and development and our investments, and we work with our allies and partners all along that stream of activity. So at the strategic level, we're very engaged with allies and partners on how to think about a changing climate and the risks it poses to us collectively. I mentioned, for example, the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, there are other low lying countries that are very much at existential risk from climate change, but there's also areas like the Northern Triangle, south of our border here in the United States, Africa, where drought, changing resource environments are driving climate migration, are potentially creating ungovernable conditions.
And we work a lot with our allies and partners on thinking through how we collectively can improve in those areas, which is largely outside defense but is mostly about develop aid and other approaches, while we think through the potential implications for the use of the military such as in disaster relief assistance and other areas. Further down that chain, as we think about how we do research and development, we work closely with allies and partners on areas we can be invested in, battery technology is a clear area, speaking with the Army just today about the work they do with the Germans and others, our European partners as an example.
Many of them are very interested in advanced technology, greentech. So we work closely on where we can find common ground to develop the kinds of capabilities we need for the future. And then we'll at least think about how we have to ensure our forces are ready and capable and invested in those systems that work for the future. We're thinking ahead to how we share those systems, how we make sure they can communicate with each other as we often do our operations with other countries.
MR. TOWNSEND: Wonderful. Again, please, come to the microphone, we'd -- we'd love to hear your questions. I'll keep going, when you've got to listen to me ask question for a while, so, you know, take your chances here. Obviously as we're speaking here today, there's a momentous conversation taking place in Glasgow, Scotland about how countries around the world are trying to come together to make progress on climate change. At the DOD, are you -- are you looking at those conversations and considering what might change for your mission? How that might effect the work you're trying to do?
DR. HICKS: Absolutely. So the commitments that come out of COP26 in Glasgow, obviously we are a part of the U.S. government. We will be part of that conversation. I mentioned our non-tactical vehicles. That's a clear case of an area where we know we're going to be moving to net zero emissions as part of the overall U.S. plan for how the United States will achieve its goals at COP26. We also work very closely, as I -- as I mentioned before with other militaries and defense establishments who are looking themselves at how they contribute to their national goals, and trying to look for ways to lower our use and ensure that we can mitigate those effects.
MR. TOWNSEND: You talked a bit about the -- the "Build Back Better" plan and what the legislation -- that has just passed and further legislation that is under consideration. I wonder if you could talk a bit more about how the work that you're doing will actually effect citizens here. I mean, how will our infrastructure begin to change as a result of what DOD is doing and, sort of how that folds into what the larger vision is for "Build Back Better"?
DR. HICKS: Sure. So, in the infrastructure plan that just passed, for example, there is investment in there in the billions for battery -- we talked about battery technology. There's also in the pending "Build Back Better" legislation, for example, a significant investment potential on the microgrid side, and we would benefit -- this doesn't come to our bases, but we would benefit from any investments to improve the electrification of the United States we live in and around communities. Of course, our bases set within -- inside and around towns and communities that would benefit from that.
Our security of our grid, the resiliency of our capabilities from severe weather events or any other manmade or natural disasters that could effect our bases and installations, are improved by that electrification. All the charging station capability that's gone into the infrastructure bill and will be delivered out, is a bill that's already passed now, law. That will also aid us as that infrastructure builds off our installations, will be working to build those -- that infrastructure on our installations, and there's some opportunities with funds that have been provided to other parts of government to partner with them.
MR. TOWNSEND: Well, let me keep -- continue, I wouldn't be allowed to let you leave the Levin Center, leave the -- leave Wayne State Law School without asking you a question that deals with oversight --
DR. HICKS: Sure.
MR. TOWNSEND: -- and transparency. It goes without saying that the kinds of issues you're going to talk about today are ones that the public has an enormous stake in, and yet a lot of the information that would help the public understand how things are going. The progress or lack of progress that might be going on is classified. How does the department deal with the need to protect things that need to be kept held close and secret, with the -- just as important need to make sure that the public is able to engage and follow and track and hold accountable the efforts that the administration and the DOD is undertaking?
DR. HICKS: Certainly. Very important issue and the administration is committed to transparency and Secretary Austin and I are certainly committed to transparency at the Defense Department. As you will know during the Obama Administration, there was a significant shift in how we do classification that allows for routine declassification over time, and we still, you know, adhere to -- are still subject to those rules and apply them. And that also provides, you know, provides a great deal of "sunshine" if you will, and the Freedom of Information Act system also helps to keep us on our toes, as it should. You're asking more, the fundamental question about why one classifies in the first place, and there we push very hard.
What we have found is that we often classify ourselves into challenges where we have parts of -- where we need to communicate effectively across our own system, let alone with the public, and we have gotten in our way by overclassifying. So there is a great deal of effort to classify appropriately, which often does mean bringing down classification from, you know, levels that people think instinctually as opposed to rationally. They -- instead of following classification guidelines directly, they might go in to the highest classification that they think makes sense. Now we make sure that they follow those rules very closely. So it is an important piece, you know, we do serve in the Executive Branch, we are subject to oversight from Congress. We work closely with members of Congress themselves to make sure they have the information they need, which sometimes is, of course, classified information but does not mean we don't share it with those who are cleared on Capitol Hill. So that's another big piece of how we approach transparency.
MR. TOWNSEND: We have a question from the audience. Please.
Q: First off, I want to thank you so much for coming and speaking with us today, and being able to answer questions that student have regarding climate change. My -- it's, kind of, a two part question that I will be asking you. So, regarding lithium batteries, where do we plan to excavate these resources from? And also, what is our plan of disposal of these lithium batteries once they're used?
DR. HICKS: Sure. So we have a significant supply chain challenge with regard to lithium. As I said, there's a -- a significant amount of -- of lithium to be had in the world, most of what's happening today inside that supply chain through all aspects of it is very much dominated by China. And for the Defense Department, that's not an acceptable outcome for what we need, for the overall commercial sector for the United States which is a much larger mover of that market. I think it's also very uncomfortable for much of the commercial sector, because you're leaving your supply chain at risk for another country's ability to choke it off. And we have seen the Chinese choke off critical minerals before, which they did with Japan in about the 2011 timeframe. So it's a big concern for us.
There is a lot of lithium here in the United States. There does need to be an effort to make sure that there's a signal -- a market signal sent, so that that can be mined and processed here. And to that's part of what we are trying to do on the Defense Department's side is raise the national security flag to indicate our interests in that, work closely with the commercial sector to make sure they have all the facts they need about where their supply is coming from, and collectively send that market signal to get the lithium supply chain up and running here in the United States and on -- in allied countries where there's also some capacity.
Q: Thank you, and then regarding disposal.
DR. HICKS: Oh disposal, yes, there's -- I think there's a lot of -- this is what I would say, I think there is a lot of opportunity for recycling critical minerals and using them effectively going forward. There are some technologies out there and some companies in the start up realm trying to do that, and I think that's a really important piece of how we make that supply chain resilience for the United States, and of course that's a much more climate friendly way to approach the challenge.
Q: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Q: Thank you Deputy Hicks for coming here. I was wondering if the DOD has any concerns about future military recruits with increased health risks, because of climate change and is there any plans to tackle that in the future?
DR. HICKS: To my knowledge, we don't have good studies right now that demonstrate how our recruiting pool is affected by health conditions. Let's take asthma, something like that. That there are links to climate change, but overall we definitely concerned about making sure we have a quality recruiting pool and that that's a healthy pool. So I think there is a connection there between, you know, some of the health effects that we've seen more broadly in society that is supported by researches linked to climate, and we can extrapolate from that to our own recruit pool to start to look at how we ensure we have a healthy pool going forward.
Q: Thank you.
DR. HICKS: Yes. Thanks.
Q: I just wanted to thank you for addressing this environmental issue is a huge reason that I'm at this law school. So I just appreciate it being addressed nationally. But you've mentioned that the steps being taken towards net zero emissions and I was wondering what your perception on the ability to really tackle an issue this huge, because I mean, does it seem like the government is finally really understanding the severity of the issue or does it seem like they're still some resistance to addressing climate change as a whole?
DR. HICKS: Yes, I think at the leadership level, it’s absolutely across the board inside the government right now in the Executive Branch, I -- from the secretary of Energy, the secretary of Defense, secretary of State. You have former Secretary of State Kerry who, of course, is leading our efforts overseas and then we have a Climate Advisor here in the United States Gina McCarthy, and they're absolutely, along with the president, committed to these goals. The, you know, the ambition level is high but the ability of the U.S. innovation sectors to get us there I think is also high. That doesn't mean to the second part of your question, that doesn't mean there isn't some cultural resistance to overcome, it an issue on climate is an issue that has become overly politicized. The science is very clear.
The national security community has for years, and even I would say more than a decade been very clear along with the intelligence community, that -- that there is a security -- national security risk set that grows from climate change. So, its not really been political in our spaces, but I think its important for us to continue as leaders to repeat that message down all the way through the ranks, and also to make climate just be, you know, you can't opt in or out at this point. We're all in it on climate, and DOD has to be part of that system and we have to train our leaders, as I said from strategy through R&D to deployments on how they think about the effects of climate change, if they're going to succeed at the tactical level.
If we rely on fossil fuel approaches, it makes our logistics trails much more difficult to secure. It makes us less maneuverable. It means we have to resupply and also, you know, retank, if you think about our tanking for meaning our ability to fuel over long distances. All of that is to the detriment of the Defense Department. So we keep making the warfighter case to those who, and the business case of the paybacks, the dollar payback, to those who have challenges with understanding the science. And we'll continue to teach the science inside our own schoolhouses.
Q: That's awesome. Thank you.
Q: Hi Dr. Hicks. Thank you so much for coming. My question was based on low income communities and how we can make sure that they are part of clean energy. Just based on one of the classes we have to take here as part of the honor's college curriculum, we learn that typically lower income communities are environmental dumping grounds and have lower life expectancies. So as we make moves to get towards net zero, and have just better lower emission and clean energy. How can you assure that lower income communities won't be left behind in this effort?
DR. HICKS: Well, I think it's a major challenge and environmental equity's incredibly important, and there is such a -- there's such a fact pattern around exactly as you say, environmental risk and -- and low income communities. So what we have in -- in the U.S. government right now, is a very significant focus on environmental equity, climate change -- how we think about climate change and all that we're doing there is a piece of that, its not the only thing that's happening right now in that space. And I would just say from a Defense Department perspective, what we know is that often times those communities set outside of our gates. So we have the responsibility not only to make sure we're looking into our installations and making sure, for example, that their environmental quality, the water, the air, et cetera on our installations is in good shape.
But those are linked almost inevitably linked to what's happening on the communities on the outside and so we have to go outside those gates of our installations and work with communities. We can bring grant dollars to bear. We can bring partnerships -- public/private partnerships and other approaches. So we're looking to all of that as part of this broader U.S. government approach on, excuse me, both on environmental equity and in many cases, honestly, its also racial equity because of the composition, ethnic composition or racial composition of those communities.
Q: Thank you so much.
DR. HICKS: Absolutely.
Q: Dr. Hicks, thank you for addressing us here at Wayne State University. I think its very inspiring to see the -- the Department of Defense is committed into including Detroit and the manufacturing spirit here in its clean energy initiative. Could you possible, briefly delve into the specifics as to how the Department of Defense will have plans to include Detroit in this initiative, such as partnerships with the big three and/or Ford Motor Company, et cetera?
DR. HICKS: Well, I can't go into specifics in the sense that we are beginning the conversation. There are different parts of the department that have some partnerships already. I mentioned today, for example, visiting the Army's facility. The Army's been here in Detroit for a very long time and they have a lot of partnership underway, but I would speak to you more than anything is the potential here. We have a -- there's a lot more potential, I think, in terms of what we can do together and how we innovate together and that includes the academic institutions, research institutions, alongside industry. And so, in coming here my goal really is to see how much more we can make out of that potential.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Picking up some of the student's questions, as you alluded to the DOD, I think first noted that climate change was a national security threat in 2008. Also in the intervening years, the frequently talked about the need to innovate with weapon systems and with vehicles, and yet as you also just eluded the relationships with the companies here are pretty incipient. So candidly, do you feel that the U.S. is where it needs to be vis-a-vis other nations, including adversaries on both fronts and if not, could you give a little flavor for your analysis as to why that -- that might not be?
DR. HICKS: So I don't think we're where we need to be against our own potential, I think that's really the yardstick I would use because it can -- if we were where we wanted to be, we would be more efficient, returning more dollars, if you will, and we would be more tactically advantaged. And, we can see that potential and how far we can go, and there's so much more to do. So to me, that's just satisfying in terms of where we are, where I know we can be, and also when you go, as I did today over at GM. When you see how far, and that's, I'm sure, exemplary of what's happening across industry, how far and how fast they have gone. We are not right there alongside them. Now, we have other challenges. We have a significant force structure. So think fleets of tanks, cars -- not just cars and trucks but tanks, aircraft, surface ships, et cetera, and we're going to have that capital investment for a long time.
But we -- you the American taxpayer, you know, you buy these for long-term investments and so there's a significant challenge in terms of how we would retrofit what we already have. Where we have, I think, by the way that's the challenge we're looking at, where I think we can really do much better fast is to get our new systems, our new approaches, and our research and development dollars focused on the areas that can deliver sooner. So as we build new systems, as we make -- even if we're just making purchases to take, cars and trucks example, we can buy electric vehicles just as easily as we can buy not, you know, non-electric vehicles. We have to build out that infrastructure on our bases. We have be electrified in a way that allows us to do that, and now with the charging infrastructure, but we can do that. That's not unsolvable and there I think we can move relatively fast.
MR. TOWNSEND: Okay. We are getting close to the end of the time we have. We have we have a hard stop at 5 pm, but we do have time for one more question. I'm sorry for the others who are waiting in line. This is going to have to be our final question. So please.
Q: All the pressure's on me now.
MR. TOWNSEND: Make it a good one.
DR. HICKS: Make it a good one.
Q: Thank you so much for being here. I so much appreciated hearing all these practical steps that the DOD's taking and just on the outside it's so hard for me to not keep thinking about this immovable object of the -- the anti-science crowd. And I just -- I wonder in your experience so far, what you've seen as the best way to pushback against that. Maybe you try to convince them, maybe you don't convince them. I don't know what's the best way to make sure not only that what the steps you're taking are important, but you have to take steps at all.
DR. HICKS: I think first leadership is incredibly important. I think having -- particularly in an organization like the Defense Department, leadership is incredibly vital. It's vital everywhere, but where people are used to following, you know, in a strict -- strict hierarchy, it's even more important. So, doing things like me coming here today, the Secretary of Defense raises climate in most of his bilateral exchanges, for example, and all his counterparts. Many of them are just as eager to raise it with him. We work very, you know, we've had these two plans that have come out. We've put emphasis in our budget, both the budget we submitted last year and the one we're working on for next year, around how we talk about climate, how we're addressing climate and adapting and those mitigation measures as I talked about. So that leadership piece of it, I think, really matters.
The second thing I would say is, there's a lot to be said for incentives and we have, you know, just like any large organization we have a way to build incentives. If folks see the efficiencies they can gain, for instance, that frees up money for things that they might value more, where an individual doesn't value the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions but they value having the dollar -- let's say -- value having the dollars back or they value just resilience. And they value that they won't have to rebuild airfields, you know, when they get taken out, or they won't have to have seawalls that they have to rebuild every few years.
That's money back on what we call readiness and capability. So we're working through ways to incentivize climate approaches, in addition to demonstrating from the leadership level that it’s not an opt out -- you don't get an option. This is the future that we're looking at. We, the Department of Defense, are part of that future. We're part of the emissions and we're part of the solution on the emissions and for our own warfighters. And that's, I think, where we're trying to deliver.
Q: Thank you.
MR. TOWNSEND: Thank you. Dr. Hicks, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful exchange. We've learned a lot. Please join me in --
MR. TOWNSEND: -- it was wonderful.
Everybody, if I could ask you to keep your seats until Dr. Hicks has had a chance to -- to make her way out of the auditorium. We're really appreciate it. Thank you all. Have a great evening.