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NEWS | Feb. 8, 2022

Addressing Climate Change Through Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure

By Paul Wirt, Chief, Sustainment and Resiliency Division, Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

The threat of climate change has been a hot topic for many years now and scientific data continues to validate that it requires action on all levels – whether it be federal, state, privately-owned businesses, and even through personal choices. The U.S. military takes this threat seriously as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has stated, “We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does…Climate change is making the world more unsafe and we need to act.” The Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate has laid the groundwork over the past ten years in anticipation of a climate strategy, and with the newly released Army Climate Strategy, sustainable and resilient infrastructure projects will remain a priority to ensure Soldier and Mission readiness.

Why has the Army Reserve prioritized infrastructure projects that provide stability and continuity of critical operations? Increasing natural disasters alone have caused devastating infrastructure damage to numerous U.S. military installations and facilities. The Army’s presence in the South Pacific was impacted in September 2009 when two earthquakes struck within minutes of each other between Samoa and American Samoa and sent devastating tsunami waves over the islands. Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico experienced Hurricanes Irma and Maria (both category 5 storms) in 2017. In the same year, the Army Reserve conducted water re-supply, provided shelter, and performed emergency evacuations in Houston, Texas during Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, super Typhoon Yutu, the strongest typhoon recorded to impact the Mariana Islands, struck Tinian and Saipan, as well as other islands, territories, and countries. More recently, Army Reserve facilities in California are experiencing wildfire seasons that start earlier and end later each year. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, climate change is considered a key driver of this trend.

Another concern we must consider is how near-peer competitors of the United States are preparing for the impacts of climate into the future. There is no denying our adversaries take climate change very seriously and recognize the strategic importance of preparation in order to leverage this reality globally. Climate change will continue to disrupt our operations, logistics, and supply chains, impact resource availability including water and energy, and have an impact on our ability to train, mobilize, and deploy from our military facilities. If we do not address these challenges and leverage technology in the same way as our adversaries, we will be at a strategic disadvantage to defend our interests.

So how do we increase sustainability and build resilience at our Army Reserve facilities? Specific to installations and infrastructure, the new Army Climate Strategy focuses on adapting infrastructure and natural environments along with securing access to training lands and reducing green-house emissions. Through our infrastructure, we have an opportunity to not only help mitigate the effects of climate change through sustainability practices, but continue to adapt to those effects through resilience initiatives. Mitigation will address the causes and reduce the impacts of climate change and its related effects. Adaptation will enable us to anticipate and prepare for the challenges of climate change. This holistic approach at the installation and tactical level ensures our Soldiers can remain ready and always have the resources needed to mobilize and deploy.

Through our sustainability programs and the Army’s Integrated Strategic and Sustainability Planning (ISSP) process, the Army Reserve has established the foundational concepts to address climate change. Our internal strategies enable us to pivot as needed and implement solutions and technologies that serve as a blueprint across the Army. One example is our Installation Energy and Water Plans (IEWPs) that we have been developing over the last three years to identify resiliency measures that will reduce the likelihood of disruptions and further enhance our ability to operate our critical facilities independent of energy and water resources outside the fence line. We are aggressively planning, programming, and implementing microgrids, battery storage, and renewable energy and water technologies at these facilities, while leveraging partnerships to optimize funding. We continue to install enterprise building control systems in our facilities to better conserve energy and water for maximum efficiency, and we are laying the foundation for an all-electric non-tactical vehicle fleet.

This is only the beginning. As we take steps to identify and fund climate projects through upcoming planning cycles, the Army Reserve will continue to find opportunities to pilot Army initiatives, utilize new technologies, and build stronger partnerships to lead the Army’s efforts in mitigating and adapting to climate change. As ever more frequently occurring natural disasters continue to create a strain worldwide, we must act now to protect our resources, our Soldiers, and our mission.