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Chuck Hagel: clean energy capability makes US Army ‘stronger fighting force’

Defense chief says investments in wind, solar and energy efficiency will boost military’s ability to operate around the world

(Pic: US Coast Guard)

(Pic: US Coast Guard)

By Nilima Choudhury

Investments in renewable energy and efficiency measures will make the military a “stronger fighting force”, according to the United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Speaking to representatives from 25 nations last week at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, Hagel said energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements such as tactical solar gear at combat outposts in Afghanistan saved roughly 20 million gallons of fuel – taking 7,000 truckloads worth of fuel off the battlefield.

“Smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many additional benefits – saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment,” he said.

“These initiatives all support President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which outlines how the United States will work with the international community in addressing these serious global challenges. This plan also helps prepare our nation for the effects of climate change and lays out how we will work to reduce carbon emissions.”

In Afghanistan, protecting fuel convoys is one of the most dangerous jobs for milita, with one casualty for every 24 missions in some years. In May, it announced plans to spend $7 billion buying electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects over the next three decades.

By 2025, private-sector investments on Department of Defense installations are expecting to be generating 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 750,000 homes.

Arctic threat

Global warming is dictating US Defense Department policy, with Hagel using the gathering to outline the country’s first strategy to protect the environmental integrity of the Arctic.

Last year, Arctic sea-ice melted down to the lowest level ever recorded and scientists predict that the Arctic could become entirely ice free as early as 2020.

As the Arctic ice melts, previously inaccessible shipping routes are now opening up for tourism, mining and other commercial purposes.

Anthropogenic causes of climate change were not acknowledged in Hagel’s speech, but he mentioned the strategy includes responding to “man-made and natural disasters” in the region, by supporting responsible environmental policies and safe commercial and scientific operations.

Hagel said: “The effects of climate change and new energy resources are far-reaching and unpredictable…demanding our attention and strategic thinking. While the opening of the Arctic will create unprecedented challenges, it will also create historic opportunities. It could open up new avenues for commerce and establish new areas for cooperation between nations in the interests of all the people of the world.

“Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a reminder of humanitarian disaster brought on by nature. And climatologists warn us of the increased probability of more destructive storms to come,” said Hagel.

Opportunities

In spite of the destruction caused by climate change, Hagel said he saw the Arctic as a region transforming from a “frozen desert into an evolving navigable ocean”.

As global warming accelerates, the secretary said, Arctic ice melt will cause a rise in sea levels that could threaten coastal populations around the world, but it could also open up new sea trade and tourism routes.

Undeterred by experts’ concerns over a ‘carbon budget’ and the US military having been aware of climate change “for many years”, Hagel said the military should look to tapping the region for “as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas” to help make the US more energy independent.

Groups like the Carbon Tracker have said only 60-80% of fossil fuels can be burnt before it becomes unlikely we can avoid more than two degrees of global warming. Nonetheless, countries spent $674 billion last year to find and develop new potentially stranded assets.

Hagel said: “Because we know that climate change is taking place, we are assessing our coastal and desert installations to help ensure they will be resilient to its effects. Planning for climate change and smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many additional benefits – saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment.”

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