In an eerie bit of timing, last week the U.S. Army released a major document called Sustainability Report 2012. Eerie, because the release came just as Hurricane Sandy roared into the mid-Atlantic states and brought about the most devastating coastal flooding ever seen in that region. Coming on the heels of two destructive storms in the same area barely one year ago, Sandy is yet another indicator that global warming is linked to an increase in extreme weather events, and it also illustrates how tightly climate change is entwined with national security. Hurricane Sandy is, in fact, the war that the Army has been preparing to fight.
U.S. Army Sustainability Report 2012
The Army’s Sustainability Report 2012 does not pussyfoot around the issue of global warming. From the beginning it states that “rising demand for scarce resources, increasing regional unrest, and the effects of climate change are just some of the trends that will affect our future security environment.”
In that context, the report lays out a long-term national defense strategy grounded in energy conservation, alternative energy, water conservation and sustainable waste management.
While clearly focused on military goals, the report also is not shy about identifying environmental sustainability with fundamental human welfare. The opening paragraph lays it all out:
“Training, equipping, and supporting the Army’s operations require land, resources, and people. By implementing sustainability principles and practices, the Army will decrease future mission constraints, increase flexibility and resilience, safeguard human health, improve Army quality of life, and enhance the natural environment.”
A Blueprint for Sustainability
The report covers actions taken in 2010 and 2011. At the policy-making end, the Army took the important steps of forming the Senior Energy and Sustainability Council and issuing the Army Sustainability Campaign Plan. Together, these establish the institutional framework that is needed to bring about top-to-bottom change in an organization. That means identifying sustainability as a unifying goal that prioritizes and guides future action.
At the implementation end, the actions include large-scale projects such as Army Net Zero, which aims to demonstrate that sprawling, complex facilities can be taken off the grid and meet net zero standards for energy, water, and/or waste.
The Army also launched the Energy Initiatives Task Force in 2011. This is an office staffed with specialists whose mission it is to relieve base commanders from the administrative burden of getting utility-scale solar power and other alternative energy installed at Army facilities. A recent memorandum of understanding between the Departments of Defense and the Interior will help streamline the Army’s alternative energy construction process, too.
On a more brick-by-brick end of the scale, the actions include habitat and wildlife conservation on training grounds, a stepped-up focus on wellness and family life, and reducing or eliminating the use of toxic materials.
Any and all of the actions outlined in the report already have a civilian counterpart (the net zero waste initiative is one good example).
Moving beyond the Sustainability Report, the Army is leading a cultural revolution that should make the collective hair of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News stand on end. Its newly launched “The Power is in Your Hands” initiative calls upon each Soldier and civilian to participate in an “energy-informed culture” grounded in new technology and smart choices.
That’s something the “support our troops” faction in Congress might want to keep in mind when their new term begins in 2013.
(Disclosure note: I live and work in Sandy’s path. More on that in the next post!)
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