Can the Department of Defense Win Its Complicated Battle Against Climate Change?
By Daniel Ross
The 150 mph winds that Hurricane Michael blasted through Tyndall Air Force Base last October left a trail of destruction, ruin and exorbitant financial loss at one of the Department of Defense's (DoD) key military bases. The damage could have been worse. Fifty-five of Tyndall's fleet of F-22 fighter jets had been flown to safety before the hurricane hit. Nevertheless, some of the 17 remaining F-22 jets — their combined worth a reported $5.8 billion — suffered damage, along with roughly 95 percent of the buildings.
But it's the fallout from these events at the airbase, along with the ensuing cleanup, that holds a mirror up to the complex set of forces confronting the military as it grapples with the global threat of anthropogenic climate change.
As an example of the complex set of factors the military must consider as the planet warms, Conger has written about the possibility of closing Tyndall due to its location in a hurricane-prone area. More broadly, he describes the military's climate change strategy as being "mission focused," meaning that the various branches look at it as a "constraint on their ability" to do their job. "It is a lot less about emissions and carbon, and a lot more on impact and resilience."
"This is a game-changer."
That said, there has been movement within the DoD to lessen its oil dependency. At the China Lake Naval Air Weapons station in the western Mojave Desert, for example, researchers are working on renewable diesels and jet biofuels that have the potential to significantly lessen the DoD's fossil fuel footprint. "This is a game-changer," said Marilyn Berlin Snell, a veteran investigative environmental reporter, about the biofuel research being conducted at China Lake.In her new book, Unlikely Ally: How the Military Fights Climate Change and Protects the Environment, Snell reports that these high density, high-performance biofuels could improve the "range" of the military's fleet of aircraft, ships and ground vehicles, all the while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent. A future iteration of the facility's research will be to adapt the beer-making fermentation process to create other biofuels. And while it's "not the role of the DoD" to commercialize these biofuels, the military is working with private companies to do just that, Snell said. "It'll take a long time," she added, "but that's the kind of innovative public-private effort we need."
Snell also discusses the efforts made at a number of military bases in California to adopt green practices. Indeed, at the installation level, "many military strategists are really working hard to figure out how to mitigate climate change on their bases," Snell told Truthout. At the Army National Training Center Fort Irwin in the arid Calico Mountains — "a god-awful rocky desert outpost," as Snell describes it — water conservation measures have cut consumption by nearly 40 percent, and a new state-of-the-art water treatment facility has taken efficiency from 50 to 99.6 percent.
Efforts at the base level to adapt to climate change aren't confined to California; take the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, where its five dry docks are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and worsening storms, according to an InsideClimate News series looking at the way climate change shapes national security and military readiness.
When Navy ships are secured within a sealed and emptied dry dock, their hulls are opened for repairs — a process that can leave exposed or vulnerable expensive electronics and mechanical systems, as well as the ships' nuclear reactors. To mitigate the threats that storms and rising sea levels pose to these ships mid-repair, the Navy has reportedly erected temporary flood walls to protect the docks and has elevated equipment. The Navy also hopes to conduct more maintenance at the facility as part of a $21 billion, 20-year improvement plan.
"Unleash the full potential of renewables."
What about the military's move toward renewables? "Some branches of the military have laid out pretty ambitious agendas for reducing their emissions, not for the sake of the planet, but in terms of saving money and having more resources for war," said Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, mirroring Conger's assessment that the military is "mission focused."It was back in 2007 that President George W. Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act committing the DoD to secure 25 percent of its energy used to power individual installations from renewable resources by 2025. In 2012, President Barack Obama upped the stakes once more, requiring three gigawatts of renewable energy — from things like solar, wind, biomass and geothermal — to be deployed on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by the same target date. Indeed, according to a report in Reuters, the military tripled between 2011 and 2015 its number of renewable energy projects. At the same time, the military's response to global warming is especially vulnerable to things like underfunding and lack of strategic planning. Another part of the problem, said Pemberton, is that the current White House is "doing whatever it can" to handcuff the government as it grapples with a warming world. In the first National Security Strategy released under the Trump administration, for example, there was no mention of the threat climate change poses to global security. Compare that to the 2015 National Security Strategy, released under the Obama White House, when climate change was described as an "urgent and growing" peril.
Impediments to the military's broad climate change strategy also exist at the state level. In her book, Snell tells the story of Miramar Air Force Base, in San Diego, where work continues on a microgrid — what is essentially a localized energy system — built primarily upon renewable energy sources, and supplemented with battery storage, diesel and natural gas. When fully operational, the microgrid at Miramar will have the capacity to power the entire base. California law, however, prevents facilities like Miramar from generating more renewable energy than is needed on base and pumping excess back into the grid.
Were that cap lifted, just four military bases alone located in the California desert could generate 7,000 megawatts of solar energy, the DoD found back in 2012. That's the equivalent output of seven nuclear power plants. "If people in California want to unleash the full potential of renewables in the state, they have to let the military produce as much renewable energy as they are capable of, because it is jaw-dropping," said Snell, who added that "this kind of symbiotic relationship is possible nationwide." Indeed, other bases have implemented their own microgrids, like a Navy shipyard in Maine that hopes to storm-proof its electrical supply.
Nevertheless, while state regulations are certainly an "important part of the puzzle," said John Conger, at large are a complex set of variables impacting the military's ability to wean off of fossil fuels. The issue of microgrids, for example, is "location specific," and is highly dependent upon expertise, he said. "Usually, the more sophisticated the system is, the more difficult it is for in-house staff to maintain it," Conger added. "They don't necessarily have the skills to maintain more complicated systems."
What's more, the military's $116 billion underfunded maintenance backlog has an even more profound effect on efforts to push forward with costly infrastructure projects. "DoD has historically underfunded its installations," Conger added. "And that problem has tendrils that reach into all these other pieces."
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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