Assistant Opinion & Editorial Editor
Sherri Goodman, director of the Center for Naval Analyses’ (CNA) Military Advisory Board, gave a presentation entitled “U.S. Military’s Approach to Environmental and Energy Security” at Common Hour Thursday.
Held in Mayser Gymnasium, Goodman’s talk outlined the current state of climate change and the ongoing military efforts to combat it, as well as the details of her own career and several lessons she learned along the way.
Goodman began her talk with the bad news.
“You really are the first generation of Americans to feel the effects of unprecedented global trends, including increased scarcities in food and water and extreme weather events,” Goodman said. “Climate change — something that many of us have assumed will have an impact decades from now, in places like Bangladesh and the South Pacific Islands — is really going to be a major factor in your lives, right here, in America, and much sooner than most of us have imagined.”
Goodman enumerated examples of how changes in the climate have already affected the lives of Americans, such as the record-breaking summer heat of 2012, a direct cause of rampant wildfires and droughts. These phenomena contributed to a global spike in food prices, which may farther unrest in the Middle East.
Goodman also touched upon extreme weather patterns such as “super-storm Sandy.”
“[These storms stand] as a harbinger of what has become the ‘new normal’ in extreme climate events,” she said. However, there was a silver lining from the super-storm in particular.
“[It caused] innovation and collaboration throughout America about the need to address the combination of climate change and extreme weather,” Goodman said.
Goodman suggested that American culture is slowly shifting its focus away from consumerism and instead turning toward conservation. In her opinion, the U.S. military has been a key presence in stepping up to the frontlines in Operation: Go Green.
“In fact, over the past two decades, the military’s role has transformed from being primarily a negative impact on the environment and natural world to being a champion — from wasting appalling amounts of energy to modeling some aspects of energy stewardship for the rest of America,” Goodman said.
She took note of some of the military’s recent accomplishments, among them an influx in environmentalism around the military bases themselves.
“Bases have actually become islands of nature in the U.S.,” Goodman said. “There’s actually a greater concentration of endangered species in the bases in the U.S. because they’ve been protected from development.”
Goodman also discussed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) recent change in the way it views the environment.
“The DOD moved from treating the environment as a burden to considering sustainability and resilience as a core component of our national strategy,” she said. “This is one of the more significant changes that has occurred within the DOD’s strategy in decades.”
Indeed, recognizing climate change as a trend worth grappling with could prove to be a key strategic move.
“Climate change [is] a threat-multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions in the world,” Goodman said.
Goodman cited the devastating Pakistani floods of 2011, the worst to happen in the country in 80 years, as an example of the instability that is occurring as a result of climate change.
“More than 4,000 died, and 11 million were left homeless,” Goodman said. “Food production has still not returned to its original capacity, and this is in the nuclear-armed, Taliban-infested Pakistan where it doesn’t take much to increase the instability that is already there and where the underlying forces now of extreme weather and climate change could be just the match that sets off the whole box.”
Goodman has dedicated the past 25 years to the challenges of conservation within the military and is thus very proud of recent developments. Nevertheless, Goodman emphasized the team effort it took to create these changes.
“Nothing happens in an organization as large as the military unless you can harness a lot of good talent from a number of citizens,” Goodman said.
Goodman’s career spent campaigning for the environment began partly as a response to her parents’ experiences and the values they instilled in her.
“My parents were both refugees of Nazi Germany and survivors of the Holocaust,” she said. “They inspired me to cherish my own safety and find work that could help me to preserve that stability for others if I could.”
Goodman’s career path was also influenced by famed environmental writer Rachel Carson.
“[She taught me] that you can’t just sit on the sidelines, you can’t just be a backbencher, because the world needs you,” Goodman said. “You’ve got to figure out how you can make a difference, and don’t be shy about it.”
Goodman also offered another lesson on what it takes to build a career in national security.
“There are a couple qualities you need in any field,” she said. “You’ve got to have a little imagination, a little vision, and a little chutzpah. I was the first female professional staff member to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The lesson here is, don’t be afraid to take a new direction.”
Goodman called upon her self-described “chutzpah” throughout both her professional and personal life. As Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security from 1993 to 2001, Goodman, along with her colleagues, quickly realized she needed to change policies to protect the environment.
“We couldn’t continue on with ‘business as usual’ without starting to imperil some of our key natural resources,” Goodman said. “So in the ’90s, the DOD went from being one of the nation’s largest polluters, with over a hundred super-fun, contaminated sites, to being a leader in developing new technologies in cleanup and compliance.”
Through her post within the Clinton administration, Goodman also took on a number of other responsibilities, including overseeing a budget of approximately $5 billion, a staff of several hundred people, and providing policy, direction, and guidance to thousands of professionals throughout the military.
Goodman’s role in environmental protection became international as well.
“We also began to cooperate on environmental issues with militaries around the world, including the former Soviet Union and other places,” Goodman said.
In her current position as director of the CNA, Goodman has spearheaded reports such as “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” in 2007, as well as “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security” in 2009.
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