Military Innovation Could Lead to Energy Efficient Technology

By Allyson Versprille

By Graham Kilmer
Technological innovations in the defense industry could have the capacity to solve problems posed by climate change, said a former Pentagon official.

Sharon Burke, former assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs and now senior advisor for the New America foundation, a Washington, D.C-based think tank, said the Defense Departmenthas a vast array of tools and resources at its disposal for innovation. Past defense investment aimed at solutions for military problems have yielded technologies now used in civilian life, such as the Internet and GPS, she said at a discussion on climate change and global security June 17, at the Atlantic Council.

“Great work is going on to put renewable energy and energy efficiency at U.S military bases,” Burke said.

The military is currently experimenting with tactical solar power, and energy efficient shelter for outposts to help it reduce the long logistical tail needed to supply these remote bases, she said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is currently working on unmanned systems that use solar technology, Burke said. A solar powered drone would give the military an advantage by increasing its range, reducing its noise, and eliminating its heat signature, she said. Advances in solar technology could be easily transferred and useful to civilian populations, said Burke.

“The institutions that think best about the future, in all our countries, are the military,” said Tom Burke the founding director and chairman of Third Generation Environmentalism, an environmental think-tank based in Europe. “They think best because they’ve had to deal with hard consequences.”

Dan Chiu, deputy director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, said he has heard concerns from the international community about the militarization of climate change solutions.

Americans are used to a healthy and confident relationship between the military and the civilian population, said Sharon Burke, yet, for a lot of countries where there is not much trust in the military, tasking it with civil and economic missions related to climate change appears to be a “slippery slope.”

“As a soldier I can tell you [climate change] is not a problem that can be solved by the military,” said Maj. Gen. Munir Muniruzzaman, a retired Bangladeshi general officer and current chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change. “At the same time, the military is a very important tool in the hands of the states.”

The military is a massive asset for a state, and must be involved in the response mechanism to climate change, said Muniruzzaman. However, it cannot be applied at the last moment. It has to be “trained” and “tooled” in order to be effective for a specific mission related to the consequences of climate change, he said.

Governments need to begin to re-evaluate military posturing, structure and equipment as the effects of climate change continue to unfold, said Sharon Burke.

Currently the U.S military is optimized for fighting and winning wars, she said. So, re-structuring the military to tackle climate change will require careful consideration, because there are vulnerabilities associated with the move, she said. Governments run the risk of “blunting” their militaries by putting too much emphasis on non-combat missions, said Sharon Burke.

As the global climate continues to destabilize, issues of human security such as migration and access to energy, water, and food will begin to worsen. These consequences will ultimately exacerbate issues ofnational and defense security, said Sharon Burke. Defense organizations must assess how these geo-political issues will contribute to future conflicts.

In Europe, governments are currently dealing with roughly a half-million people wishing to migrate to their countries, said Tom Burke. These migrations are leading to political consequences in the form of emerging nationalist and populist movements, he said. Russian president Vladimir Putin sees these movements as opportunities for division in Europe.

There are no hard power solutions to climate change, however, there are hard power consequences, said Tom Burke.

Bangladesh is currently on the frontline of the climate change threat, said Muniruzzaman. A one-meter rise in sea level will lead to the displacement of 30 to 35 million people there, he said. The regional instability caused by this mass migration would have profound consequences for the international security system, he added.

The international community is not currently equipped to handle massive population movements, like those expected to happen with climate change, he said. There currently is no international definition for climate refugees, and international agreements will be required to deal with the displacement of millions, he said.

“We live in a very Westphalian state system where we have built complete walls amongst ourselves,” Muniruzzaman said, referring to the principle that each nation has sovereignty over its own borders and affairs. 

International law will become muddied when entire nations like the Maldives and other Pacific islands “completely vanish” beneath the rising seas, said Muniruzzaman. There is currently nothing in international law defining how to handle areas of water that were once a state, he said.

Topics: Defense Department, Energy, Alternative Energy, Climate Change, Energy Security, Power Sources, Homeland Security, Disaster Response

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