Commentary

Wendy Blais | The Greener Side: Veterans, the DOD and Climate Change

Do military service veterans play a role in combating climate change? The answer is a resounding “YES!” 

Military members and veterans generally tend to vote conservatively. However, a January 2019 study conducted by The Conversation, an independent journal of commentary and analysis, yielded surprising results: Both active-duty military and veterans expressed the same concern regarding manmade climate change as the general public — about 44%. An identical 2016 Pew survey found the results to be even higher, at 48%.  In contrast, a 2019 study from Navigator Research found that only 28% of conservatives were concerned about or believed in human-caused climate change. 

Why the discrepancy? The answer lies in the military itself.

In 2016, President Obama issued an executive order directing the Department of Defense (DOD) and all other federal government agencies to make preparations for global warming impacts a top priority, and treat climate change as our most serious national security threat. 

The DOD took the order, and climate change, seriously. In 2014, it had already published a “climate change roadmap” and launched a review of its installations to identify vulnerabilities.

“A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions,” the Defense Department concluded in the 2014 report. “The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities … in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters.

“Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S. military sites in the world, sees recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years.” 

In January 2016, the DOD issued a directive implementing the 2014 roadmap.

President Trump, a climate-change denier, has pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement and deeply undercut clean energy policies to combat climate change. In March 2017, the Trump administration rescinded all climate-related federal agency actions ordered by President Obama, including those that directed the Pentagon to plan for future storms.

The Pentagon ignored Trump’s order. In March 2017, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee saying he would make “addressing the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security a top priority as head of the Pentagon. The effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”

The Department of Defense continues to carry out the climate change preparations ordered by President Obama in 2016.

What is the significance of the military, especially veterans, embracing the science and mounting evidence of climate change? For one, veterans make up 7% of the voting population and have clout. They are getting involved and speaking out.

For example, Operation Free is a major coalition of veterans and national security experts who believe oil dependence and climate change pose threats to our national security. The organization strongly advocates for securing America with clean energy.

In February 2014, Operation Free and The Solar Foundation® released a joint report, “Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future,” which demonstrated that veterans, with unparalleled technical skills and commitment to accomplishing the mission, are hugely beneficial to the clean energy movement.

Solar Ready Vets, a solar jobs training program that prepares military personnel in “transitioning military” status for solar-related careers, includes locations at 10 military installations, with plans to increase the number of graduates from 291 to 2,500.

The military and veterans’ position on climate change should be no surprise considering the oath of enlistment: I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

Veterans incorporate, honor and live this sacred pledge for life.

Climate change is arguably the greatest existential threat bearing down not just on America, but on humanity and all living things 

And veterans have risen to the call.

Wendy Blais is an Air Force veteran and a member of the Santa Clarita Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter. “The Greener Side” is a recurring column focusing on environmental issues.

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