Climate change and behavior change continues to be a leadership challenge

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kirk Rowe, Clinical Neuropsychologist
  • 96th Medical Group

As a clinical neuropsychologist who has studied the intricacies of how the human brain is wired for a living for the last 16 years, it still remains fascinating to observe why change is so hard to accept, especially when facts and negative consequences are within clear view. The negative effects of driving under the influence of alcohol, smoking, and obesity are abundantly clear; however, many people continue to engage in these behaviors. 

A similar issue is America's enormous energy appetite that continues to feed the insidious encroachment of climate change. With world leaders meeting in Copenhagen in December to make decisions about what to do about human influenced climate change, the fact that many people don't believe that the climate is changing due to human activities is a huge hurdle in moving forward with action. To move away from fossil fuels toward renewable and alternative resources may appear to be a daunting task because it requires people to change their mind. However, often times in the change process, the most difficult step is the realization that change is needed. 

A May 2009 report supported by 12 retired generals and admirals discussed climate change and its threat to national security, proposing "climate change, national security, and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges." They reflected on the concerted community effort by all Americans during World War II when individuals planted and harvested their own food, conserved fuel, and recycled rubber and scrap metal. The report states that these sacrifices made the war effort "more successful, shortened the war, and saved lives." 

It would appear that people were more amenable to change then so what is the cultural difference now? 

One of many differences is the current level of commitment to conservation and a willingness to reconsider old ways. Putting what we know into action about reducing our use of energy in our businesses, homes and vehicles becomes a leader's challenge. Through education and leadership, we can transform the way people think about energy and the impact our decisions have on the environment, and future generations. One leader in the conservation movement stated that the commitment to "going green" is a mile wide, but an inch deep. It's time to dig in and to borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, "It's not enough that we do our best, but do what is required." 

You're either part of the solution or part of the problem; we cannot continue business as usual, a retired Navy vice admiral said in his call for Americans to rethink their energy issues. 

The same could be said about any mission in America's Air Force - we all need to take an active part in completing our missions and part of that includes considering the future of our organizations and beyond. This takes discipline and broad participation. It would be nice if the Civil Engineering Group could address these complex problems for us on their own, however these are issues they cannot begin to address without everyone's involvement. 

Many Americans are now seeing the need for new behaviors in light of our unprecedented climate change, as well as our declining oil supply. Using energy more efficiently and creating new energy options will require strong leadership throughout every level of government and involvement from the private sector. 

I just returned from Washington D.C. where I attended a monthly meeting called The Energy Conversation. Energy leaders from every branch of the service spoke at this meeting last month. Seeing these leaders armed with the best intelligence we have about climate change and discussing unprecedented energy initiatives, many that have been instituted over the last year was very exciting and stimulating. Taking their lead, we should begin by making "energy a consideration in all we do" by putting 50 percent of all end of year fall out money toward green initiatives such as low flow shower heads, motion detector lighting, air hand dryers in restrooms and bike paths just to name a few.
There are bound to be many challenges as a new generation of ideas evolve, however, these new perspectives will allow us to power our planet more efficiently and respectfully. 

We have a precious opportunity to follow the wisdom and learn from distinguished former military leaders who have the foresight to lead us in the direction toward many of the new energy-efficient changes that our Air Force is considering and many that they are already doing. 

Finally, let's all get behind the Civil Engineering Group and complete the energy awareness training provided so we can start doing our part. Let's lead the way in making Eglin number one when it comes to energy stewardship and new energy initiatives.
Seeing Team Eglin enroll in courses on how to engage people into mission changing discussions, gives me hope we are headed in the right direction for the future of our national defense. Their ad said "Changing the Air Force culture is critical to achieving the Air Force's Vision to 'Make Energy a Consideration in All We Do.'" Directions for base personnel enrollment are on the A-3 website,

Pooling together our nation's resources to help the environment and America's economy makes a better solution. At work in your organizations, the same holds true - gathering the resources of your team and developing a cohesive strategy makes a more effective and successful mission. 

If we accept the data and follow the lead of the rest of the world, the solutions will come. There are many resources online. For example, review the CNA report at For more information about what you can do on an individual level to address the changing climate and curb your energy use, please visit the Department of Energy's website at