5 Action Steps for the Department of Defense to Lead a National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

Evergreen Action
5 min readDec 8, 2020

The climate crisis is the single biggest threat to global security and world peace in the 21st century. The Department of Defense must rapidly decarbonize our military infrastructure and establish U.S. leadership in a global climate mobilization.

For years, national security experts have warned that climate change causes global instability. As Secretary of Defense, General Austin must prioritize climate as a central pillar in national defense. Prioritizing climate means the U.S. military can no longer be in the business of wasting billions of dollars and risking countless uniformed lives to defend oil industry assets. But the climate crisis also presents an opportunity for new global partnerships, as we mobilize to defeat it. The Department of Defense should be focused like a laser on strengthening climate resilience and ensuring a thoughtful and humane response to global climate disruption.

In order to build a just and thriving clean energy economy, every federal agency must become a climate agency. This charge is especially urgent for the incoming Secretary of Defense who will lead the single biggest oil consumer in the world–the U.S. military. General Lloyd Austin must mobilize the full resources of the Department of Defense against the climate crisis.

As President-elect Biden begins an all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis, today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions for how the next Department of Defense must act:

1. Recognize Climate Disruption as a Core Security Vulnerability

President-elect Biden must reinstate the Presidential Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security. And the new Secretary of Defense must take responsibility for integrating climate change considerations into the National Defense Strategy, as well as the Quadrennial Defense Review. The DOD must report to the president on the impacts of climate change on defense posture, readiness, and infrastructure, as called for in President-Elect Biden’s platform. The new Secretary of Defense should also designate a Climate Change and Security Lead within their office to coordinate DOD equities in climate resilience and response. They must also work alongside the Secretaries of State, Homeland Security, and the National Security Advisor to build a more humane and intelligent American posture towards the reality of climate-fueled migration and conflict. This requires adapting American immigration policy in the context of climate change, increasing the number of refugees taken in, and elevating climate security within the United Nations Security Council.

2. Leverage DOD Procurement Power to Accelerate a National Clean Energy Mobilization

The DOD has considerable scope to use its procurement powers to purchase clean and resilient energy technologies, and advanced low-carbon fuels, that will enhance domestic resilience and simultaneously help to build the industries that will help defeat the existential climate threat. The DOD should take full advantage of Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for efficiency upgrades and renewable energy production on or near domestic facilities, and of procurement contracts for advanced low-carbon biofuels for heavy-duty transportation and resilient microgrids at DOD facilities. The next Defense Secretary should utilize the authorities in the Defense Production Act to deploy critical technologies in clean energy deployment and electricity grid resilience against climate disruption as well as against other 21st century threats like cybersecurity. Wherever possible, DOD facilities should partner with state and local governments in coordinated pursuit of mutual climate and resilience goals. And these DOD investments should come with a commitment to high labor standards, robust supply chains, and ‘Buy American’ provisions to support union jobs and secure domestic industries.

3. Exert Defense Department Leadership in Strategic Industrial Policy

The Defense Secretary must play an active role in enhancing domestic security and supply chain resilience through industrial policy. This includes using the Defense Production Act for the production and commercialization of industrial resources and critical technologies necessary for a clean energy transformation. The DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) should elevate partnership with the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to spur investments in innovative, breakthrough clean energy generation, transmission, distribution, and end use technologies, while simultaneously investing in carbon removal and adaptation technologies. The DOD should also work alongside counterparts at the Departments of Commerce and Energy, and other key agencies, to conduct a national Quadrennial Industrial Review (QIR), as called for in the Evergreen Action Plan, that assesses supply chain vulnerabilities and builds out U.S. manufacturing capacity in clean energy and other strategic industries. This should come alongside a commitment to high labor standards that support union jobs and domestic industries to unlock massive investments to shift towards a zero carbon industrial future.

4. Convene Regional Climate Security Dialogues

Climate change is a direct driver of displacement of people from their homes and communities on a global basis, but particularly acutely in our hemisphere in Central America, and these disruptions undermine the foundation of whole communities and regions, and lead to increased migration to the United States. It is imperative that the United States work with and provide assistance to governments of the Northern Triangle nations to advance a cohesive strategy that serves the entire region’s interests. The DOD, along with the State Department and USAID, should organize a consistent venue for addressing resilience and climate-related threats with our international and regional partners. The instability and threats from the climate crisis are not contained at country borders; developing aligned and humane responses on transboundary resource scarcity and conflict, as well as livelihood insecurity and migration, is essential. This forum should also be leveraged to develop policy outcomes that anticipate and prepare for climate security threats like sea level rise and extreme weather events.

5. Strengthen America’s Energy Security by Ending Reliance on Fossil Fuels

One of the most significant impediments to ambitious global climate action has been backward looking opposition from fossil fuel industries and leaders of nations that prop them up. The DOD must end its reliance on fossil fuels and untether our government from escalating economic and security risks. An estimated $81 billion of public tax dollars are sunk annually into protecting oil supplies around the world, and defense of supply lines for fossil fuels create substantial vulnerability for American soldiers in the field. The Secretary of Defense, along with the Secretaries of Energy and Treasury, must launch a comprehensive assessment on the current and historical costs and strategic vulnerabilities associated with protecting oil supplies globally, and develop policy responses to help the federal government recover those costs and reduce risk exposure. Public expenditure should not bolster the profit margins of fossil fuel companies. The next Secretary of Defense should also work alongside the new presidential Special Envoy for Climate to ensure global accountability for fossil fuel corporations as the United States and our allies respond to and mitigate the climate disruptions these multinational corporations have caused.