April 23, 2019

Literary Resources

Reviewed by Madeline June Kass


Unlikely Ally: How the Military Fights Climate Change and Protects the Environment

Marilyn Berlin Snell

Heyday, 2018

In Unlikely Ally: How the Military Fights Climate Change and Protects the Environment, author Marilyn Berlin Snell explores seemingly contradictory efforts of the U.S. military to simultaneously pursue environmental sustainability and national security goals. The book begins by laying out the military’s rejection of an inherent conflict between environmental protection and national defense, particularly with respect to base resiliency, troop safety, and conflict reduction. Snell explains the military’s connecting the dots between climate change and base security as follows:

The US Defense Department’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (2014) refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier” and lays out the stakes: “The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions . . . Our actions to increase energy and water security, including investments in energy efficiency, new technologies, and renewable energy sources, will increase the resiliency of our installations and help mitigate [negative climate change] effects.”

Snell quotes various military officials on a nexus between alternative and renewable energy development and troop safety. According to a former Pentagon official, “[i]t was during the war in Afghanistan that there was a very clear recognition that the fuel-supply lines were leading to a huge number of deaths and injuries, and that the nexus between security and energy was very real.” The author quotes a decorated, two-star general’s call for “a focus on renewable-energy development that would make the nation’s need to do battle in oil-producing countries a thing of the past.” Snell also notes a military acknowledgment of linkages between climate change and terrorism: “[i]f left unchecked, the [Quadrennial Defense Review] warned, climate change could aggravate ‘poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.’”

The remainder of Unlikely Ally features military initiatives directed at uniting and achieving environmental sustainability and national security goals. Snell provides examples from army, navy, and marine corps bases in Southern California that demonstrate innovative environmental leadership to protect the environment and advance military readiness. In the author’s words, “[t]his is a book about leadership. The military takes pride in being the tip of the spear when it comes to war-fighting. Across the Southern California landscape, it’s also a trailblazer in the environmental research and practice of building resiliency and nurturing life.”

In six concise chapters, Snell offers up stories of six military bases leading the effort of integrating environmentalism and security. There’s a chapter each for Army National Training Center Fort Irwin, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Clemente Island Range Complex, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. For each, the author uncovers what to many readers will be surprisingly encouraging environmental programs.

I was particularly drawn to the chapter on the Miramar Air Station. As an environmental law professor, I often forced my students on a field trip of the Miramar landfill, just adjacent to the air station. From the wide-open expanse of the active landfill cell continuously receiving load upon load of waste (approximately 91,000 tons per year), to the endless line of vehicle traffic (over 1,000 customers a day) and the monster trucks roving back and forth compacting mountains of garbage, the landfill offers an unexpectedly fascinating environmental adventure. Add in the neatly stacked, precision rows of mulch producing composting greenery; a nationally recognized bird control program (that combines bioacoustics, stuffed seagull decoys, and firecracker ammunition to control birds that might otherwise get sucked up into jet engines at the base); and a few bizarre day-at-the-dump tales (like a decaying whale, lost and found treasure, and a drunk partier who passed out in a dumpster and fell out at the landfill), and even my mother (from New York City) couldn’t wait to tell her bridge-playing, opera-watching, companions about her fabulous trip to the San Diego dump.

Given my amiable acquaintance with the landfill, I was intrigued by the book’s description of a partnership between the Marine Corps and the City of San Diego. It turns out the air station leases the 1,500 acres used by the City of San Diego for the landfill and has done so for more than half a century. A joint venture “between the air station, the city, and an energy development company captures methane from the landfill . . . and transforms it into energy.” Snell reminds readers that methane “straight out of the ground, produced by decomposing organic landfill waste” is a potent greenhouse gas with 28 times the heat-trapping power as carbon dioxide that “does much worse damage in much shorter time.” As for the Miramar Energy Project, Snell reveals:

Not only did the initial phase of the project drastically reduce the amount of raw methane emissions escaping from the landfill, a refinery and power plant built there currently produces 15 megawatts of renewable energy. Of that amount, 3.2 megawatts go directly to the air station through dedicated infrastructure to supply 37 percent of its average electricity needs. The rest goes to power City of San Diego public works, like its demonstration wastewater reclamation plant, which produces 1 million gallons a day of reclaimed water. The air station satisfies around 30 percent of its water needs by using some of that reclaimed water for landscaping, for street sweeping, and in toilets. Landfill gas also powers San Diego’s Metro Biosolids Center, which processes sludge at the landfill.

In addition, Snell describes how––with a combination of congressional funding and public-private partnering––the air station has put in place a renewable energy project designed to improve energy resiliency. Base efforts undertaken as part of a U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) project (“Net Zero Energy on Installations” project) combine “cutting-edge” battery storage technology with rooftop photovoltaic arrays to generate up to 1.5 megawatts of power at the air station. And, with funding from the California Energy Commission, the base will add a “$3 million vehicle to grid (V2G) lithium-ion fuel-cell demonstration project” to its renewable energy program.

The remaining chapters in Unlikely Ally explore other base-led environmental programs. The Camp Pendleton chapter, for example, focuses on base leadership’s “commitment to both national and natural defense” and base ecosystem management efforts to protect local endangered and threatened species, such as California least terns. The China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station chapter finds scientists “developing clean-burning and renewable rocket fuels made from cedar extracts.” Yet another chapter describes Department of Defense research on the desert tortoise in the Mojave both to “bolster the population” and “improve our understanding of how to survive a trip to Mars.”

Although Snell readily acknowledges that “[n]ot all military facilities are led equally when it comes to stewardship and energy innovation,” her reporting reveals surprisingly hopeful examples of how the military fights climate change and protects the environment. Thus, Snell concludes:

The military may be rigid, primed for violence, and inherently conservative, but it is also by necessity both tactical and strategic: it must plan for future contingencies and then figure out how to execute. On the installations I visited, the overlay of environmental law with the geopolitical instability posed by a dependence on fossil fuels drives much of what is good about their energy and environmental initiatives. They are showing the way forward even as other military installations, and government agencies created to protect public health and the environment, falter.

For those needing some positive news on the environmental front, this Unlikely Ally offers up encouraging stories.

An Elephant in My Kitchen: What the Herd Taught Me about Love, Courage and Survival

Françoise Malby-Anthony with Katja Willemsen

Sidgwick & Jackson, 2018

If you don’t have time to run off to Africa, but would appreciate an authentic wildlife adventure filled with noble elephant matriarchs, orphaned baby rhinos, a hippo named Charlie, and extraordinary humans dedicated to rescuing and protecting these imperiled creatures, consider reading An Elephant in My Kitchen: What the Herd Taught Me about Love, Courage and Survival. Written in first-person narrative, the book recounts how Françoise Malby-Anthony unexpectedly became sole director of the Thula Thula game reserve upon her husband’s sudden death and her extraordinary efforts to keep the reserve open, build a wildlife rescue center for orphaned animals, and protect them from ruthless, relentless poachers. And yes, an actual baby elephant appears in her kitchen.

For those troubled by illegal trade in wildlife, there is much to be learned from Malby-Anthony about the brutal realities of poaching. For one, even on a private game reserve, such as Thula Thula, poaching exists as an ever-present threat to both the animals and their protectors. The poachers operate with guns, drones, snares, sophisticated surveillance, radio listening devices, and heartless cruelty. Distinguishing between poachers “killing for the pot” and those “killing for profit,” Malby-Anthony notes “the latter type is hell-bent on money and doesn’t give a damn about animals or endangered species, and he won’t hesitate to shoot the men and women who risk their lives to protect them.” She recalls about a beloved rhino:

I still have nightmares about what they did to her. . . . Once you’ve seen what poachers do to a rhino’s face, you can’t unsee it. . . . They turned her beautiful face into a gruesome mess of blood and flesh, and she was alive when they did it. If she had died from a bullet, I might have learned to live with it. If the poachers had made sure she was dead before they hacked her face than I could have consoled myself that her death was in fact a godsend. But they didn’t. They butchered her while she was a breathing, living, feeling rhino.

In response, Malby-Anthony relates many of the ways she has sought to protect the reserve’s wildlife. She has tried an experimental horn infusion technique that injects toxins and an indelible dye in rhino’s horn (to reduce demand and thereby deter poachers). When horn injections became controversial and failed to effectively deter poachers, she reluctantly accepted horn removal:

I made one of the toughest decisions of my life. What choice did I have? It’s a war out there and I didn’t know what else to do any more. A rhino’s horn is Mother Nature in all its glory and when I look at our rhinos, I see prehistory, power and dignity. Poachers see dollars.

Even with horns removed, Thula Thula must engage a specialized, around-the-clock, paramilitary anti-poaching unit to protect the wildlife and caretakers on the reserve. Malby-Anthony’s ever-more vigilant efforts reflect ever-growing threats: “[T]here are only 25,500 rhinos left in our world and they are being wiped out,” and poachers will slaughter a rhino “for little more than a stub.”

Despite the attention to poaching, An Elephant in My Kitchen is primarily about love, courage, and hope. The book reveals the deep bonds that can form between humans and other animals, honors the dedication of those caring for and protecting orphaned animals, and pays tribute to the courage and dignity of the animals who come to trust their human caretakers. Ultimately, An Elephant in My Kitchen is a story of hope, the grand hope that people can live peacefully with––rather than eradicate––the elephants, rhinos, hippos, and other majestic creatures of the bush.

Of course, if you have time to run off to Africa, you can read the book while visiting Thula Thula (http://thulathula.com/accomodation/elephant-safari-lodge-south-africa-zululand/). You may see me there.


Reviewed by Madeline June Kass

Ms. Kass is professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California; a Fulbright scholar at the College of Europe in Brugge, Belgium; and a member of the editorial board of Natural Resources & Environment. She may be reached at mkassm@tjsl.edu.