•  Carrier


Considerations for the Future

Reducing climate change is not the mission of the Department of Defense, but given its resources and its reach, the department can contribute significantly in the short term to positively influence this long-term global issue. 

By Maj. Andrew Hoisington, Ph.D., P.E., M.SAME, USAF 





Last fall the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released “Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report,” as part of the organization’s Fifth Assessment Report evaluating and detailing the impacts of climate change.

While IPCC may have its critics, the report is the most comprehensive published on climate change, with more than 800 authors writing it and responding to over 140,000 comments. The report’s first summary statement provides a clear direction on IPCC’s position on climate change: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.” Military reports also indicate a concern over climate change. The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) states the “impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities.”

The QDR also identifies the effects of climate change as global “threat multipliers,” that will “aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” The U.S. federal government and the Department of Defense (DOD) have chosen to address climate change. The short- and long-term impacts of climate change on DOD operations are important. Equally important is to identify the short-term positive influences that the department can have on this complex global issue.


Eventually the world may get to the predicted results of climate change. They are devastating to be sure. But the time scale is so vast it is hard to comprehend and plan for them. According to the IPCC report, the majority of the intense effects of climate change will be observed in 100-plus years. Design and planning of military facilities and equipment are not on that time scale. The defense funding process is not on that time scale. Even our lives are not on that timescale. Consider military planning and strategy in 1915. That was only 12 years after the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. The U.S. Army was still three years from ordering its first mass produced tank. The USS Skipjack had just been commissioned as the first U.S. submarine to run on diesel engines. Would it have been possible or even practical to conduct military planning in 1915 for 2015? That is a fundamental problem with addressing the influences of climate change. The variables involved in solving the long-term impacts make predictions extremely difficult.

Still, it would be ineffective to contend that DOD does not need to consider the future ramifications of climate change. In fact, the potential impacts can have a major influence on its operations. For example, climate change can effect energy production/security (temperatures rise of 2⁰C to 4⁰C); basing strategies (1-m or more sea level rise); conflict zones (select water scarcity); and peacetime response (extreme weather events). The United States right now may be witnessing climate change impacts that will drive policy decisions in the short term: for instance, the melting polar ice in the Artic and the development of basing, equipment and procedures for that area. Indeed, Executive Order 13514 requires federal agencies to consider long- and short-term effects of climate change.



DOD is in a unique position to not just consider these effects but to positively influence the future anthropogenic effects on climate change. One highly valuable asset it has is a global network of bases and facilities, which can provide a worldwide resource for climate and building data research. According to a 2014 basing report from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, DOD manages a real estate portfolio of 4,855 sites. These assets span every U.S. state, seven territories and 40 foreign countries.

Through select monitoring of building properties DOD could generate the largest historical climatic dataset of building properties. New facilities or those under major redesign could be outfitted with data collection and direct reporting devices that are added to the existing requirements of an energy management control system. Data mining with high performance computers that DOD currently operates could result in future architectural design parameters to reduce the impacts of climate change on new or renovated facilities.

geothermal plant at NAWS China Lake, Calif.




Energy reduction and management is another area in which DOD is investing resources. The department spent $14.8 billion on operational energy in FY2013, with more than 60 percent of that cost from overseas operations. DOD is actively pursuing several energy reduction goals, including rapid fielding of new energy efficient equipment, alternate fuel sources, and reducing energy at combatant commands. The U.S. Army, in cooperation with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been working towards Net Zero energy at nine installations. Partnership across agencies is a key ingredient in addressing climate change. The use of government partnerships was stressed in Executive Order 13653—Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change, which was signed into law on Nov. 1, 2013. DOD also is committed to producing or procuring 25 percent of energy from renewable sources. The investment in renewable energy has two main benefits in the problem of climate change. The first is a direct benefit of clean technology replacing energy that produces climate impacting gases. The second is technological improvements that come with the level of investment. These improvements could drive renewable energy production to be closer in costs to nonrenewable energy sources.



DOD is in a unique position to not just consider these effects but to positively influence the future anthropogenic effects on climate change. One highly valuable asset it has is a global network of bases and facilities, which can provide a worldwide resource for climate and building data research.


DOD’s Annual Energy Management Report for FY2013 listed nearly 900 renewable projects undertaken by the department. Geothermal energy is responsible for 52 percent of the total renewable energy, led primarily by the geothermal plant at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. Municipal solid waste (19 percent) and solar photovoltaic (10 percent) were the next most productive renewable energy sources. By project basis, solar photovoltaic accounted for nearly 60 percent of the total renewable projects given its many small-scale applications—over 500 active in FY2013. Third-party financing and other alternative procurement methods have enabled a rapid growth in renewable energy and this is expected to continue.

DOD produced or procured over 350-MW of renewable energy in FY2013 and a report from the Pew Research Center estimates that figure may rise to 2.1-GW by FY2018. Each military service is committed to developing 1-GW of renewable energy in the years ahead. The size and scope of DOD, combined with the requirement for uninterrupted and secure power source, makes it an ideal investor in renewable energy technologies.



Building climate data research, achieving energy reduction, and developing renewable energy technologies are just three ways DOD can support climate change awareness and reduction. Additional work includes alternate fuels, water treatment, combustion technologies and drag reduction among many other efforts.

Reducing climate change may not be the mission of DOD. But given its resources and its reach, the department can contribute significantly in the short term to positively influence this long-term challenge.

  [The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]


Maj. Andrew Hoisington, Ph.D., P.E., M.SAME, USAF, is Assistant Professor and Environmental Engineering Division Chief, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.; 719-333-8975, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..