Earth Day 2024: Defending the Nation, Protecting the Future

  • Published
  • By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The Department of the Air Force observes Earth Day, Every Day because safeguarding our environment is crucial to sustaining readiness and accomplishing our mission. Increasingly frequent and severe storms, droughts, fires, and sea level rise threaten the resilience and readiness of our installations, infrastructure, and personnel. We’re Defending the Nation and Protecting our Future by restoring the environment, investing in built and natural infrastructure resilience, and amplifying conservation efforts.

“The connection between national security and climate is unmistakable. The Air Force is committed to ensuring a more secure world, but we must also ensure it is a world worth securing,” said Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment, Dr. Ravi Chaudhary.  “The Department of the Air Force is going to stay focused on ensuring we are reducing fossil fuel consumption with innovations that are literally going to change the world and democratize how we use energy. Everything from Blended Wing Body aircraft, small microreactors, geothermal applications, and space solar capabilities. We are also committed to stewardship of our lands with initiatives like living shorelines, protection of endangered species, and natural reefs. Incidentally, these initiatives also ensure mission success! We are going to make a world that is more secure and better for future generations.”

The Department of the Air Force is pursuing innovative solutions to bolster installation resilience, energy efficiency, and environmental conservation at an enterprise-wide level, but collective action is paramount to effecting meaningful change. Equipping installations with the tools they need to remain resilient to increasing natural hazards is critical for mission sustainment. After Hurricane Michael damaged or destroyed all 484 facilities at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the base began pioneering nature-based coastal resilience solutions like implementing a living shoreline with oyster reefs and saltmarsh enhancements and conducting coastal dune restorations across Tyndall’s 40 miles of coastline. Additionally, Tyndall Air Force Base is developing a "Digital Twin" for weather event simulations to gauge potential impacts on and safeguard critical infrastructure against the backdrop of increasing storm surges.

Furthermore, the department is promoting sustainable landscaping solutions to reduce water usage.  For example, many installations are removing sprinkler systems, reducing the number of irrigated acres, and stopping irrigation during warm seasons. One such installation, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas installed a centrally controlled irrigation system with solar powered smart radio frequency technology and targeted drip emitters, replaced Bermuda grass lawns with water-efficient Buffalo grass, and planted native vegetation and gravel mulch. Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, also replaced water-thirsty grasses with efficient desert landscaping, reducing water consumption by 10 percent in a location that only receives an average of 3.5 inches of rain per year. Other sustainable practices such as wastewater reclamation at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, combined with strategic infrastructure investments like a water resilience project to construct a pipeline, pump station, and water treatment plant at Mountain Home Air Force Base, strengthen mission assurance and readiness by bolstering water availability and efficiency, without compromising operational capabilities.

The department’s dedication to environmental conservation extends to safeguarding endangered species. Restoration efforts to minimize sediment and pollutant runoff in on-base waterways on the installation led to the delisting of the Okaloosa Darter in August 2023—a testament to the impact of our integrated natural resources management.  These efforts enhanced the mission capabilities of Eglin Air Force Base; improved roads and stream crossings ensure we can test and train in an authentic, sustainable environment, while protecting and preserving the Okaloosa Darter’s habitat.

Volunteers at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station joined forces to clean up 13 miles of beach shoreline, removing over 24 tons of marine debris and trash to restore habitat and clear the way for nesting sea turtles and shorebirds. At Patrick Space Force Base, Guardians are playing a crucial role in environmental stewardship by protecting the Banana River, a state listed impaired water body, through ongoing shoreline cleanup efforts targeting trash and storm-related debris. The installation also marked and labeled 184 storm drains to help prevent stormwater pollution from illegal dumping and ensure the preservation of this vital ecosystem.

Additionally, the department is preparing for the challenges of a changing environment by increasing combat capability for the warfighter through investments in energy-informed innovations and data-driven decision making that increase ‘lethality-per-gallon.’ Changes to legacy aircraft like C-17 Microvanes and KC-135 Winglets will improve the efficiency of airframes across the mobility fleet. Optimizing aircraft energy use increases the readiness and operational capability, decreases logistics supply chain risk, and informs operational plans, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. Efforts like these have saved over 25 million gallons of fuel and have a projected impact of $100 million in fuel savings per year, as well as 240,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

The Department of the Air Force encourages every Airman and Guardian to embrace sustainable practices, reduce their environmental footprint, and advocate for the preservation of our planet. Some ways to do this include reducing use of single-use plastics, using LED bulbs to minimize energy use, recycling, and composting when possible, and planting drought-resistant vegetation in your own yard to reduce water consumption.

This Earth Day, the department reaffirms its commitment to safeguarding the planet and continuing to steward our over 8.3 million acres of land to ensure that as we execute our mission, we also protect our planet for generations to come. It’s part of our values as Americans to not only ensure a secure world, but also strive to make it a world worth securing, a world future generations can relish.