Water, Climate, Energy Lead Navy Admiral's Speech

Tells Graduates Innovation Enables U.S. to Compete Globally

The cartoon stereotype of environmentalism as a movement of granola eaters and tree huggers has passed, evidenced by the increased spending within all branches of the U.S. Military on alternative energy and environmental innovation. As interesting, that investment represents an emerging worldview — not just new methods of deploying cost-saving technologies.

Navy Admiral James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr. addresses Georgia Tech grads. Via Department of Defense

Navy Admiral James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr. addresses Georgia Tech grads. Via Department of Defense

In a powerful speech before the doctoral and master’s commencement ceremony at Georgia Tech, Navy Admiral James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr., vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called on grads to assume their role in establishing the US as a global leader in innovation:

Leading change begins with the creative process, when someone like you challenges the assumptions and connects the dots from different fields into previously unknown combinations, and then unveils either an incremental or revolutionary idea people haven’t yet seen.

 … You don’t have to be a rock star to lead change. Your people will be more eager to follow you if they know they’re doing it for the betterment of something other than your own reputation.

The Department of Defense trumpeted Admiral Winnefeld’s message:

[He] told the graduates that every academic discipline they represented touched one or more of the major challenges facing the world.

The admiral counted off challenges the graduates will face: energy and infrastructure, population growth and hunger, water resources and climate change, the risks and opportunities associated with an interconnected world, a rapidly changing economic landscape, evolving threats to global security, and others.

Though Washington DC-based ideological debates would lead one to believe the opposite, major institutions typically labeled “conservative” are factoring climate change and resource shortages into their long term planning. The U.S. military and Fortune 500 corporations are investing large sums in the environmental security arena.

Two recent examples came on the same day:

An April 25 announcement by General Electric:

GE Energy Financial Services has made its first investment in the Indian solar sector – and said it expects to back renewables projects globally with more than $1bn annually.

An April 25 groundbreaking of a 155-acre solar array project in Fort Huachuca, Arizona in collaboration with Tucson Electronic Power and E.ON Climate and Renewables, which the Army says will:

[P]rovide about 25 percent of the annual installation electricity requirement of Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

“This will be the largest solar array in the department of defense on a military installation,” according to Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. [emphasis added]

But the US has a distance ahead before it dominates the global environmental innovation race in the way Admiral Winnefeld envisions: the GE announcement was anchored by its project in India, and the Army’s collaborator, E.ON Climate and Renewables is a German-owned company based in Dusseldorf.