The Navy’s new climate plan is mostly silent on its biggest polluters: ships and planes
The Navy has unveiled a plan to halve its energy emissions by the end of this decade and achieve so-called “net-zero” status by 2050. Yet despite all the bold ideas and innovations of the plan, there is one aspect that remains visibly unaddressed – the dozens of ships and planes that burn fuel every time they operate.
Instead, the plan released this week focuses on increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and implementing new energy systems such as microgrids to become less dependent on fossil fuels and strengthen the navy against the growing effects of climate change, which increasingly threatens coastal bases with flooding and extreme weather.
The Navy’s plan is the latest move by the military to underscore its commitment to fighting climate change under President Joe Biden, who brought the issue to the fore after it was largely brushed aside by the Republican administration. previous.
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“For the Department of the Navy, this is existential,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro wrote in the opening lines of the strategy document. “If we don’t act, as sea levels rise, bases like Naval Station Norfolk and Marine Corps Recruiting Depot Parris Island will be strained in their ability to sustain their missions. .”
Under the new strategy, the Department of the Navy will aim to make its ground vehicles, including large trucks such as the replacement for the Marine Corps’ medium seven-ton tactical vehicle, more fuel efficient.
The Navy’s ambitious overall goal is to purchase “100 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2035, including 100 percent zero-emission light-duty vehicle acquisitions by 2027,” according to the strategy released by the service.
It also plans to install more micro-grids – small-scale power systems – on the facilities. Independent systems are seen as a way to provide renewable energy to bases and also to protect against disruptions to the wider power grid. On Tuesday, the Marine Corps announced that one of its logistics bases in Albany, Georgia had become the Department of Defense’s first net zero facility. That means the base generates more energy than it consumes “by implementing a range of climate-friendly solutions,” Del Toro said. says in the ad.
However, the Navy’s strategy is particularly silent on what it plans to do about ships and planes that are its biggest consumers of fossil fuels and the biggest emitters of pollution causing climate change.
Data from the Ministry of Defense showed that the Navy and Marine Corps accounted for 30% of all energy used for Army operations in 2014. Maritime and air assets accounted for nearly equal shares of this figure.
The main consumer that year was the Air Force, with 57% of all military power consumption – and almost entirely for flight operations. Meanwhile, the military has been heavily involved in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and has started the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
“In fiscal year 2014, the DoD consumed 87.4 million barrels of fuel enterprise-wide to deploy and support global missions,” the 2016 report explained, adding that if much “can be attributed to the operational tempo of U.S. Central Command, Department weapons platforms and equipment also requiring more energy, albeit with ever-increasing combat capability.”
Despite the enormous consumption, a 2019 study from Brown University found that The military’s overall greenhouse gas emissions have actually declined since 1975, when they were around 110 million metric tons per year, to just under 60 million metric tons in 2018.
The new strategy says the Navy “will continue to explore hybrid and advanced propulsion options for all ships, including future frigates and destroyers, and other classes of ships,” without going into specifics.
It wouldn’t be the Navy’s first foray into making its ships more environmentally friendly. The Obama administration and former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus have attempted to switch ships and planes to biofuels, an alternative to fossil fuels that could reduce climate change impacts.
Also partly due to rising fuel prices, a 2011 Department of Energy announcement stated that “By 2016, the Navy plans to deploy a large green fleet powered entirely by alternative fuels.”
Later Reduced Navy Materials on this promise. In 2016, the plan was as much about energy-saving measures such as hull efficiency changes as it was about biofuels.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the strategy’s rollout on Monday, Meredith Berger, the Navy’s assistant secretary for environment, facilities and energy, said the service is “always working with industry to understand what other types of low-emission fuels are out there” and could be used.
“The driving force is always to make sure the Navy and Marine Corps fulfill their mission,” Berger said.
Now the conversation about greening naval vessels is being framed as something to strive for, but not yet. “We see a lot of potential, and future ships are considering more of these fuel-efficient engines,” Berger said.
Despite its vagueness on ships and aircraft, the strategy is a statement about the Navy’s belief that climate change is a serious threat to the service. Berger said San Diego, home to several major naval bases and a Marine Corps training camp, is “hard hit.” She added that Norfolk, home to the Navy’s largest naval base, has seen more flooding.
“If temperatures continue to rise, the oceans will warm, creating more destructive storms forcing our fleets and Marine Corps forces to increase their operational tempo to respond,” Del Toro wrote in the strategy note.
“Bold climate action is an imperative mission” for the Navy, and “in this watershed decade, we have no other alternative,” Del Toro said.
Related: Marine Corps plans to abandon Parris Island amid growing extreme weather threats
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