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The US military is preparing to fight climate change

Four experts spoke at an event about the military’s efforts to switch to renewable sources of energy, as climate change threatens to fuel future conflicts.

Residents walk through a flooded street after Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Cristal River, Fla., on Aug. 30. The hurrican knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of Florida customers.Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg

The military is preparing for climate change, too, and one major focus of those efforts is how it uses energy.

The US military remains the world’s largest fossil fuel consumer, according to Thomas Oppel. He served as chief of staff to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus from 2009 to 2017 and was one of four experts who spoke at a New Hampshire Network webinar Monday night.

During Mabus’s tenure, he set a goal that the Navy and Marine Corps would shift so that that at least 50 percent of their fuel came from renewables, Oppel said. When his tenure came to a close in 2017, renewables made up 60 percent of energy consumed ashore and almost 40 percent at sea.


The military still uses around 75 percent of the total federal government’s energy budget, since so many military systems are energy-intensive.

Oppel said relying on oil and gas for military operations was a vulnerability, pointing to allies in Europe who depend on Russia.

“Almost half of Russian governmental revenues come from the sale of oil and gas,” he said. “So our ability to move away from being a market for that gave us the opportunity to degrade their ability to have funds to cause trouble.”

Climate change also posed a significant risk to global security, he said.

The Navy and Marine Corps are first responders to climate-fueled natural disasters like floods, typhoons, heat waves, and sea level rise. Those disasters can also fuel conflict over food production, power production, and water.

Robert Smith, a former SEAL team commander, said during Monday’s event that climate change also factored into decisions in active combat. He said in the early days of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, his team was heavily reliant on fossil fuel to send trucks full of supplies to troops stationed in remote locations, working with the Afghanistan people.


“You can imagine, at an outpost in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, you have 12 guys working with the Afghan National Security Forces, and they’re running a generator that is loud, and every enemy force can hear it and can locate exactly where that small outpost is,” Smith said. “They know it has to be refueled.”

Switching to a battery-powered generator that can be used to purify water could offer real tactical advantages, he said.

In 2007, he said, every vehicle ran on fuel. “Now, many of the vehicles that we have are battery-operated,” he said.

This story first appeared in Globe NH | Morning Report, our free newsletter focused on the news you need to know about New Hampshire, including great coverage from the Boston Globe and links to interesting articles from other places. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Amanda Gokee can be reached at Follow her @amanda_gokee.