Climate & national security with Maj. Gen. Rick Devereaux

Rick Devereaux USAF citizens climate lobby

By Alex Amonette

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an online meeting featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. Check out recaps of past speakers here.

Our November speaker was retired Maj. Gen. Rick Devereaux, who served 34 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring in 2012. His last assignment was Director of Operational Planning, Policy, and Strategy in Washington, D.C. He is currently Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at Texzon Technologies, a pioneer in the field of electromagnetic wave propagation, power storage, and electricity distribution. Devereaux is also a volunteer with the Asheville chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 

The November call happened to fall on Veterans Day this year, so Devereaux began his remarks saying, “It’s an honor for me to talk about the intersection between the climate, national security, and fossil fuels. I can’t think of a more timely topic on this day.”

He emphasized the value of CCL’s focus on bipartisan work. “How do you forge a consensus on a controversial topic?” he asked. “One way is to outreach to folks who normally not be a part of that conversation.” That outreach can happen in the form of a conversation about national security, which can help forge a broader consensus.

Devereaux offered four caveats to be aware of when talking about climate and national security. He said:

  1. “Our military is not interested in entering the debate on human-caused climate change.” Instead of a debate, they’re more focused on preparedness and resilience.
  2. “Our military is not interested in taking the lead in solving the problem of global climate change.” They may be taking steps that are “green,” but their mission isn’t to fix climate change.
  3. “Be careful about overstating the relationship between climate change and national security,” Devereaux advised. “I talk about the linkage, but don’t overstate it.”
  4. Finally, he said, “It’s always good to use expert opinions from national security experts, rather than environmentalists.” He cautioned that there will be skeptics on both sides of the debate, but referencing material from the original source is a good way to start.

Next, he gave us a few talking points when speaking with people about national security and climate change.

US military knows climate change is real

“The military is planning for climate change. They believe it is real,” he said. After the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress, the Department of Defense is incorporating that reality into their planning.

“Climate change affects areas with strategic consequences and areas where the military is located. Military installations must be able to effectively prepare and mitigate damage. Directors across the world have been instructed to keep that in their planning,” he explained, particularly when it comes to the 700 or so coastal installations the military has. “One recent report said 128 of those are at risk from sea-level rise,” he pointed out.

“The big area of planning is what I’ll call ‘accelerants of conflict,’” he added. “These are climate change factors that tend to aggravate bad situations around the globe, leading to drought, famine, migration, flooding, instabilities that arise within governments because of those kinds of things. The military gets called to act. Commanders are planning for these types of events.”

The bottom line? Devereaux said, “The military is not in denial. They are front and center.”

Moving away from fossil fuels

“Not only are they planning for climate change, at the same time, they are moving away from fossil fuels,” Devereaux explained. “Even Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the military needs to be ‘unleashed from the tether of fuel.’” That’s because fossil fuel is a “conflict driver,” Devereaux said, that can be a source of international tension.

It also creates a logistical challenge for the military. “If you look at the strategic chokepoints around the world—Strait of Hormuz, Moroccan straits—60% of world’s seaboard oil passes through these straits. The U.S. Navy is charged with keeping those sea lanes open. It’s an expensive and dangerous proposition,” Devereaux said. He referenced the recent USS John McCain collision with an oil tanker.

Fossil-fuel dependence also limits war-fighting effectiveness, Devereaux said. “It is a huge logistical burden and point of vulnerability. The military is very dependent on fossil fuels for aircraft, generators, and vehicles. About a third of the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan came from convoys and supply lines.”

A final reason why the military is trying to go more ‘green’ is that fossil fuels are expensive, Devereaux pointed out. “The DoD accounts for 93% of the U.S. government’s energy usage. The Air Force burns 55% of the energy bill alone. The DoD consumes 360,000 barrels of oil every day. You heard me right! I used to fly an air refueling aircraft. We paid $42 per gallon for gas we passed [refueling] in the air. The convoys in Afghanistan, we were paying $400 per gallon in Afghanistan, if you figure in the security costs and such. DoD wants to get the costs down. Renewables are needed.”

Staying the course

For all those reasons, the military is committed to acknowledging the realities of climate change and moving away from fossil fuels. That hasn’t changed from the past administration to today.

“My last Pentagon tour was during the Obama administration,” Devereaux said. “I would grant that there was a lot of pressure at the beginning of the administration to ‘go green for green’s sake’ under Obama. But after that pump was primed, military leaders from the installation through the strategic level realized the operational advantages of moving towards renewable fuels.”

And now? “I was in the Pentagon this week, last Tuesday. I asked this very question: ‘Now that President Trump is in charge, what are you doing different?’ The answer is, ‘Nothing! We realized in order to make our bases more resilient, we have to disconnect ourselves from the civilian electrical power grid. How do we do that? Put wind farms and solar panels on our bases. Going renewable makes us more resilient.’”

So it’s clear that even if the Trump administration is against climate action, these initiatives within the military still make sense. “They are full steam ahead on sustainability,” Devereaux said.

For more from Major General Rick Devereaux, including his full Q&A with volunteers, listen to the November 2017 podcast or watch the call recording on YouTube

Alex Amonette
Alex Amonette is a freelance technical and grant writer/editor, lives in cattle and sheep country, and raises vegetables and hay.