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Earth Day 2023: Invest in our Planet, Protect our Future

  • Published
  • By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
  • SAF/IE

The Department of the Air Force recognizes the importance of protecting and sustaining the natural environment for the execution of its mission and the betterment of communities. In celebration of Earth Day and in alignment with this year’s theme, “Invest in our Planet, Protect our Future,” the Department of the Air Force highlights how it works to preserve natural habitats and ensure resilient infrastructure, operations, and communities.

“Pilots check the weather every time they step out to fly because the dynamism of the environment can impede the mission and jeopardize safety. As our operating conditions change, our force must be prepared to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of an austere environment to win. Period.” explained Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment, Dr. Ravi Chaudhary.

“Our strategic investments across our installations go beyond the sustainability of our force,” added Chaudhary. “This is about American leadership. When other nations see us committing to a better world for future generations, they see it as more than a strategy - it represents our values as Americans.”

The Department of the Air Force is investing across the enterprise to meet its strategic goals through state-of-the-art infrastructure, clean energy generation, and conservation efforts. In 2022, the department released its Climate Action Plan, which lays out an enterprise-wide approach to ensure policies, technology, and operations align to its mission and priorities. As the operating environment changes, the department is responding to current vulnerabilities while strategically planning for the future.  

After severe impacts from Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, is rebuilding its facilities to withstand more frequent and intense hurricane forces, while designing to create social and environmental benefits for the installation and local community.

Coined the “Installation of the Future,” this base will be the first-of-its kind in the Department of Defense. base initiatives include locating functions into “mission campuses” to improve space efficiency and effectiveness; using natural infrastructure to combat flood and coastal erosion threats; building micro-grid architecture with renewable and traditional energy power generation assets distributed throughout the grid; and creating walkable campuses to better connect working, living, and community areas. The Installation of the Future will forge the road ahead for the DoD and provide a model for U.S. allies and partners.

The Department of the Air Force invests in alternative energy technologies that help strengthen installation and grid resilience, while reducing its environmental footprint. The department has 337 active renewable energy projects across 115 sites, spanning solar, wind, biomass, and ground source heat pump efforts and recently completed one of the largest solar projects in the nation at Edwards AFB, California. The project bolsters commercial grid resilience and will have the capability to power over 164,000 homes and displace more than 320,000 tons of CO2, annually.

Wholistic care of the planet requires the Department of the Air Force to not only mitigate and adapt to a changing environment, but also protect and restore the over 9 million acres of land it manages.  

At Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., the 11th Civil Engineer Squadron conservation team is partnering with the Anacostia Watershed Society to restore the District’s native freshwater mussel populations in the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Utilizing its 3.5 miles of waterfront property, the installation deployed a freshwater mussel ‘nursery’ in its marina. Once full grown, the mussels will be relocated to a nearby reef, where they will help filter river water and revitalize the Anacostia Watershed at large.  

Similarly, Eglin AFB helped revitalize the population of the once-endangered Okaloosa darter. Approximately 90% of this small fish’s habitat resides on department property, and the species was on the brink of extinction before the installation acted. Utilizing an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, Eglin AFB worked diligently to reduce 480 acres of stream erosion, remove fish barriers, and restore stream habitat. As a result of these efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the proposed de-listing of the Okaloosa darter from the threatened and endangered species list in 2021.

These stories represent a small, but significant, fraction of ongoing initiatives across the Department of the Air Force. This Earth Day, and every day, the department invests in installation resilience, sustainability, and environmental stewardship to ensure it continues to fly, fight, and win while sustaining our planet for decades to come.