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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


September/October 2013

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Editorial: Tackling Our Biggest Environmental Challenges

It is not often that we think of the military as part of the solution to environmental problems. Yet despite all of the denial of the reality of global climate change that goes on in Congress and elsewhere, and despite our government's apparent inability to do anything real about it, the military has been quietly and effectively preparing for its onset. To take one example, the SEALs, one of the Navy's elite—and sometimes quite controversial—forces have been spending millions of dollars on solar technology, allowing them to power up equipment and purify water while on a mission. Their net aim is to become energy and water independent in the near future. They are preparing for the reality of global warming.

This is only one of such efforts by the armed forces. Many bases are trying to capture the energy they need from renewable sources, and both the Navy and Air Force are examining how to run jets on biofuels, using less petroleum. These are examples of the many ways they have been at the environmental forefront. From thinking about the impact of the deterioration of the natural world on the mission of the military and how to carry it out, to the realization that farflung outposts are better served by solar energy technology to avoid long and dangerous journeys carrying oil to these posts, the military has provided interesting leadership.

Read Environmental Security, Military Planning, and Civilian Research: The Case of Water with care, for it teaches us much. Focusing on water as a case in point, the article highlights ways in which the military establishment has fostered clear thinking not only on the problems that it faces as a result of environmental insecurity, but also on ways in which we can solve various issues. It also points out quite clearly that there is no panacea—no one thing is going to solve the problem of our worsening natural environment.

And worsening it is, as most experts agree, and it is doing so more rapidly than predicted. Set against the lack of any kind of meaningful action by the international community, it points to the need for some new thinking on our governance structure. Such is the theme of the article Green Pluralism: Lessons for Improved Environmental Governance in the 21st Century, analyzing several case studies to illuminate the difficulties of thinking beyond national borders to get a truly global view, and also the possibilities when one can do that. It is a much needed and refreshing bit of optimism that there is a way, after all, of working together to deal with the issue.

Yes, sometimes urgent problems such as the one we face now lead to strange bedfellows. And different bedfellows is what Timothy O'Riordan's Commentary piece, Future Earth and Tipping Points, is all about. Recognizing that natural science alone will not solve the environmental problems we face, Tim, a fellow executive editor, gives us his take on Future Earth, a courageous attempt to combine the social and natural sciences, as well as ethical and other considerations often thought of as being outside science, to combat the serious problems of worldwide environmental deterioration.

Finally, a personal note. Thomas F. Malone, the former president of the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research (honor) Society, died July 6, 2013. Tom, a personal friend of mine and of many others, was elected Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and initiated the academy's Committee on International Security and Arms Control. He warned of the dangers of global warming in a talk at the California Institute of Technology in 1970, a time when practically nobody was paying any attention. Fond of saying that there was no telling what one could do if one did not care about getting credit for it, he was the player behind the scenes in the first International Geophysical Year in 1957. He was the force behind many other international activities. He was one of the great ones, and will be sorely missed.


—Alan H. McGowan

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