The Challenge of Change & Reality of Environmental Threats

The Challenge of Change & Reality of Environmental Threats

As a clinical neuropsychologist, who has studied the intricacies of how the human brain operates for the last 20 years, it still remains fascinating to observe the difficult process of change even when negative consequences and facts are within clear view. For example, negative effects of driving under the influence of alcohol, smoking and obesity are abundantly clear. Unfortunately, many people continue to engage in these behaviors. America’s enormous energy appetite and the insidious encroachment of climate change are two issues impacting and calling us to make significant changes in order to adapt. But this change, too, is coming very hard. March 2012 will be known as the hottest March since record keeping began in 1895. In the first three months of 2012, more than 15,000 warm records were broken, which was a surprise even to those who study climate trends.

A May 2009 military advisory board report from 12 retired generals and admirals noted climate change and its threat to national security. It proposed that “climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.” These same concerns are advanced in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review – the four year path for the military. Recent Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, made similar comments when he spoke at a 2012 Environmental Defense Fund reception: “In the 21st Century, the reality is there are environmental threats that constitute threats to our national security. For example, the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security – from rising sea levels to severe droughts to melting polar caps to more frequent and devastating natural disasters – all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

Panetta mentioned the reality of environmental threats. Seeing reality as clearly as possible is how society advances and evolves. It is one of the first steps in the change process, and it can be very difficult because research shows it takes more evidence to change a belief already established than to form a new one. In regards to energy use, moving away from fossil fuels toward renewable and alternative resources appears to be a daunting task because it requires people to change their minds. This is the challenge of leadership.

Through education and leadership, we can transform the way people think about energy, which will influence decisions that have long-term impacts on the environment and future generations. One leader in the conservation movement stated that the commitment to “going green” is a mile wide but an inch deep. It appears as though it is time to dig in and to borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, “It’s not enough that we do our best, but do what is required.”

One step in doing what is required is to have “power down” weekends like military personnel are doing at various installations. During three and four day weekends, the entire base population makes a concerted effort to shut-off all unnecessary electronics. In fact, one military base saved $77,000 during one long weekend. What if all military bases made “powering down” the standard practice for each and every weeknight and weekend? What kind of an impact would that have on the military budget? Wouldn’t this perhaps influence everyone’s behavior when they returned to their homes every evening?



A leader at another base said she never walks into a room where a light is on because the culture has changed. People now turn off power when it’s not needed. In a recent book by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens he said he had to “break ranks” with geologists about climate change. In a telephone conversation I had with him three years ago he further stated, “I’m not going to sit around and wait to see if it happens. It would then be too late to respond.”

Similarly, a retired Navy vice admiral commented, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem; we cannot continue business as usual,” when he called on Americans to rethink their energy issues. These examples highlight “breaking ranks” and how leadership can help guide others toward solutions.

Many Americans are now seeing the need for such solutions in light of unprecedented climate change as well as our declining oil supply. Using energy more efficiently and creating new energy options will require strong leadership throughout every level of government to include involvement from the private sector and every American.

Panetta commented that “we must be able to have the potential to transform the nation’s approach to challenges we’re facing in environmental and energy security. We’ve got to look ahead and try to see how we can best achieve that.” In likeminded manner, Teddy Roosevelt once said that in utilizing and conserving the nation’s natural resources, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight.

We have a precious opportunity to follow the wisdom of and to learn from distinguished former military leaders who had the foresight to lead us in a new direction. This direction has charted the course towards the many new energy-efficient changes the Air Force is considering as well as many already in use. Challenges are bound to exist as a new generation of ideas evolves. However, these new perspectives will allow us to power our planet more efficiently and respectfully.

Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric CEO, states: “What we lack in the United States today is the confidence that’s generated by solving one big, hard problem – together.” Tackling energy dependence and climate change both qualify as big, hard problems, which will require a sustained effort and sacrifice from all of us toward the goal of a more sustainable future. While it would be nice if the Air Force and other military and civilian civil engineering directorates could tackle these problems for us, these issues are too complex and far reaching to be addressed without everyone’s involvement