Even as orchestrated campaigns succeed in convincing a growing number of Americans to doubt the established evidence of climate change, the Department of Defense must remain committed to continuing its science-based efforts to address the expected dramatic and far reaching impacts of climate change on the military and on national security. 

That was the message of Dr. Naomi Oreskes, historian of science and author of Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming, during the opening plenary session of the annual Partners in Environmental Technology Technical Symposium & Workshop hosted by SERDP and ESTCP in Washington, D.C., November 29 – December 1, 2011. More than 1,200 environmental professionals from the military, government agencies, academia, private industry, and the regulatory community participated in this conference.

Dr. Oreskes, who is also a Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and an Adjunct Professor of Geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, cited SERDP for peer-reviewed research the program first sponsored in the early 1990s, which added to the scientific evidence of climate change.

Still, she cautioned that even as DoD moves forward in establishing policy and taking action on climate change, the ongoing efforts by certain groups aimed at sowing doubt among Americans and policymakers have succeeded in stalling wide-ranging federal action for the nation as a whole.

Regarding climate change, Americans in general have “engaged in some magical thinking,” Dr. Oreskes said. “We’ve denied, or at least doubted, the facts. We’ve persuaded ourselves that the matter is unsettled. But as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, ‘we may be entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts’,” said Dr. Oreskes. “And the facts of climate change are very clear. By denying those facts, we’ve put ourselves on a collision course with our own future.”

The successful efforts to spread doubt about climate change and its causes are similar to campaigns by a small group of scientists with connections in industry and politics to question the evidence linking smoking to lung cancer, CFCs to the ozone hole, and coal smoke to acid rain, Dr. Oreskes said. In Merchants of Doubt, Dr. Oreskes and coauthor Erik M. Conway detailed the long history of these groups’ campaigns.

“For climate change, they’ve applied the same strategy as they used for tobacco – to insist that the science related to these environmental issues was unsettled and it would be premature for the government to act,” Dr. Oreskes said. As with tobacco and its effects on public health, delaying action on climate change risks potentially devastating consequences for the environment and human health and well being.

“This is why the facts of science still matter greatly, because we ignore the facts of nature at our peril,” Dr. Oreskes said. “Denying them does not make them go away.”

Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, described the wide-ranging effects of climate change on the most basic aspects of life and society in his address during the plenary session.  

“Without energy, there is no economy. And without climate, there is no environment,” Dr. Holdren said. “Without economy and environment, there is no material well being, no civilized society, no personal or national security. The problem is the world is getting most of the energy its economies need in ways that are imperiling the climate its environment needs. Much greater harm is ahead unless we move rapidly to reduce the offending emissions and adapt to the changes in climate that are no longer avoidable.”

The implications of climate change for DoD are profound, Dr. Holdren said. “The United States’ dependence on oil and greenhouse gas driven climate change both pose significant national and international security challenges,” he said.

Climate change itself can have impacts on international tensions, Dr. Holdren explained. It can increase conflicts over scarce resources such as water, and it can have impacts on the types of missions, for example, those necessitated by instability from flows of environmental refugees. Climate change also can influence the effectiveness of troops in combat as in heatwaves or duststorms. And it can affect troop training and readiness as military installations, depending on location, are subjected to more frequent and varied weather extremes, such as storm surge, sea level rise, more intense hurricanes, or hotter and drier climate.

Regarding energy, DoD is both a major user of fossil fuels and a major emitter of greenhouse gases, Dr. Holdren noted. He praised DoD, and SERDP and ESTCP, for meeting both the energy and environmental challenges in several ways.

First, Dr. Holdren cited DoD’s extensive investment in science and technology to develop such innovations as advanced fuel systems, hybrid propulsion systems, high efficiency engines, lightweight components, and alternative biofuels for ships and aircraft.

Second, he noted the military’s early procurement of energy efficient technologies and clean energy, which can bring down costs and make these options more available for the nation as a whole. ESTCP’s Installation Energy Test Bed initiative is a good example of early procurement, Dr. Holdren noted. Through this initiative, DoD facilities throughout the nation are being used as energy test beds for innovative technologies. These test beds are validating performance costs and environmental impacts and enabling DoD to transfer lessons learned in design procurement across services and installations.  

Third, Dr. Holdren cited DoD’s innovation and responsible operations at installations, including the use of clean energy, energy efficient practices, and environmental stewardship. Building efficiency, he noted, can reduce costs, improve reliability, and improve sustainability on installations. DoD, through SERDP and ESTCP, also is studying advanced electric power systems, which can reduce costs, improve resilience, secure power for critical loads, and reduce carbon emissions. Examples include utility-scale distributed power, wind, solar and fuel cells, microgrids, and vehicle-to-grid power.

“In short, the defense sector is a crucial player in the Obama administration’s national strategy of innovation to address energy and climate challenges,” Dr. Holdren told Symposium & Workshop attendees. “What you are doing in this domain is immensely important. It is the leading edge, and the White House very much appreciates it.” 

The Honorable Terry Yonkers, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics, described during his plenary session address how SERDP and ESTCP have been instrumental in enabling the U.S. Air Force to make dramatic strides in the speed and effectiveness of environmental cleanup of harmful contaminants on current and former military sites.

“Under the auspices of SERDP and ESTCP, advanced technologies were developed that enhanced the natural degradation of some of the more troublesome contaminants,” Mr. Yonkers said. And advances in nanotechnologies, bioremediation, and chemical approaches are emerging that will help accelerate cleanup even more, he noted.

“Not only are these technologies leading to cost savings, but they are allowing us to meet regulatory standards and to close out sites and do it much more quickly,” Mr. Yonkers said. Sites that just a few years ago were projected to take 50 to 100 years to complete now are projected to be cleaned up in 8 to 10 years, he said.

Still, Mr. Yonkers acknowledged significant challenges remain for cleaning up contaminants such as chlorinated solvents and munitions at difficult sites. Regulatory agencies also are proposing stricter standards on a number of emerging contaminants. “As we think about the future, we have to be conducting research that addresses a dynamic challenging regulatory cleanup environment with tighter standards,” he said.

Mr. Yonkers also discussed several other areas where progress has been made and challenges remain, including natural resources, sustainability, recycling, pollution prevention, and energy.

The Air Force is the single largest user of energy in the federal government, he said. In FY 2011, the service spent $8 billion on energy - $6.5 billion on jet fuel, $1.1 billion to run installations, and $400 million to fuel non-tactical vehicles. Fuel costs for the Air Force for FY 2012 are projected to exceed $9 billion, he said.

“At the same time we seek to reduce demand and the annual costs, we’re also pursuing energy security,” said Mr. Yonkers. “Reliable uninterrupted energy is essential in meeting our critical infrastructure needs and hence our critical missions.”

“SERDP’s charter is no less critical today than it was 25 years ago, perhaps more so,” Mr. Yonkers said. In connection with ESTCP, he further indicated that bringing that innovation to the marketplace is key.

Project-of-the-Year Awards Showcase Program Successes and DoD Benefits

Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee, SERDP and ESTCP Executive Director, and Dr. Anne Andrews, Deputy Director, presented four SERDP Project-of-the-Year Awards and one ESTCP Project-of-the-Year Award at the conclusion of the plenary session to recognize research and technology developments with significant benefits to DoD. Recipients of this prestigious honor follow. Descriptions of the award-winning projects are available at the links below.

SERDP Projects of the Year

ESTCP Project of the Year

Technical Program Delivers Timely Updates and Training Opportunities

Following the opening plenary session, attendees took part in the technical program, which offered a selection of 15 technical sessions and four short courses. Technical sessions highlighted research and innovative technologies that are helping DoD address increasingly complex environmental challenges such as energy efficiency and security, emissions from gas turbine engines, controlling munitions constituents on operational ranges, classification of military munitions, and climate change vulnerabilities and impacts. Short courses in the environmental restoration and munitions response areas provided unique training opportunities on recent advances in science and technology.

Throughout the conference, attendees also took advantage of the many opportunities to meet with colleagues, exchange information, and tour the Exhibit Hall, which featured more than 450 poster presentations and 11 booths showcasing technologies and scientific advances from SERDP, ESTCP, and related environmental and energy research programs.

Presentations from the plenary session, technical sessions, and short courses are available at Coming soon to the web site are on-demand videos from the four short courses—Implementing Classification on a Munitions Response Project, Estimating DNAPL Source Zone Natural Attenuation, Thermal Treatment Technologies: Lessons Learned, and Field Methods to Distinguish between Vapor Intrusion and Indoor Sources of VOCs.

Planning is now under way for the 2012 Symposium & Workshop to be held November 27-29 in Washington, D.C. Watch for details. The Call for Poster Abstracts will be released by the end of May with abstracts due July 31.