A commitment to Trillion Trees Initiative requires military might

A commitment to Trillion Trees Initiative requires military might
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Dire crises sometimes have a funny way of creating strange bedfellows. But who could have imagined alignment between Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg and the U.S. military on an approach to help decarbonize the planet? In fact, all three have recognized tree planting as a way to capture carbon from the atmosphere and improve the health of our ecosystems. They are joined by policymakers, scientists and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle who all agree that trees are among our planet’s carbon saviors. 

And they are all right: One 2017 study estimated that forests and other ecosystems, if managed properly, could provide more than one-third of the total CO2 reductions required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius through 2030.

For an administration that denies climate change and fails to keep pace with technological advances in advanced energy, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE’s State of the Union announcement that the United States will join the 1 Trillion Trees Initiative is a major commitment. The president’s focus on trees is consistent with the priorities of Republicans in Congress, who are planning to present a conference-wide plan to address climate change. But if the president and congressional Republicans are serious about continuing to show “strong leadership in restoring, growing and better managing our trees and our forests,” we will need a massive effort from an unlikely source: the U.S. Armed Forces.

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It may surprise most Americans to learn the U.S. military is the second largest U.S. landholder with over 30 million acres. While keeping our national security firmly as its singular warfighting focus, our military can be a constructive partner in the climate solution envisioned by the president and Congress by husbanding forests and expanding tree planting and protection programs on military bases.  

Americans recognize the martial strength of our military forces, but what is not widely appreciated is that Department of Defense (DOD) communities and military bases are a great source of strength for our natural ecosystems, including forests that sequester carbon. The largest stand of longleaf pine, an ecosystem that once covered much of the southeastern U.S., is now on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and U.S. Army’s Fort Stewart in Georgia.

These national treasures are managed by dedicated professionals: DOD’s biologists and naturalists. They have been aided in their mission by the far-sighted vision of the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii who, with the support of his close friend and colleague Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, created the Legacy Resource Management Program, which supports protection of and research on DOD’s natural and cultural resources. This type of bipartisan leadership can be a model today. The Senate recently established its first bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, co-chaired by Sens. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Michelle McMurry-Heath Republicans turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 MORE (D-Del.) and Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunBill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters MORE (R-Ind.). The House already has a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, sometimes referred to as the “Noah’s Ark” caucus, since members must join in pairs.  

Conservation of natural resources and preserving forests has become so important to the military mission that, in the past decade, Congress helped DOD create a conservation conveyance program that allows DOD to convey surplus military property to local landholders who will hold it for conservation values compatible with military training. Over 80,000 acres of military property have been conveyed through this program that has helped preserve these ecosystems.

Today’s U.S. military understands that environmental security, climate stability and economic prosperity are fundamental to global stability. Since 2008, climate change has been included in every National Security Strategy. Military leaders have identified climate change as a risk to operations and regional stability.  

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Planting and preserving trees alone will not be enough to reduce carbon to acceptable levels, but our military can be part of the climate solution through continuing and expanding its tree planting and protection programs and by linking environmental security with national security more concretely. There is a vital logistical mission here that the military is ideally suited to execute. One day, perhaps, the idea of our soldiers dropping “seedlets” instead of “bomblets” may not be so counterintuitive after all.

Sherri Goodman served as the first deputy undersecretary of Defense (environmental security) and was founder and executive director of the CNA Military Advisory Board, whose landmark reports include “Advanced Energy and US National Security” (2017), among others. She serves on the boards of the Atlantic Council and the Center for Climate & Security.

Greg Douquet is a former Marine Corps colonel, co-founder and managing partner of Red Duke Strategies LLC, and co-director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center’s Veterans Advanced Energy Project.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.