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Why The US Military Is Leading The Charge For Green Energy

Our generals see our dependence on oil as a huge vulnerability, and climate change as a "threat multiplier." Can their leadership make a difference?
 
 
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Air Force cargo planes drop barrels of fuel to remote bases in Afghanistan to avoid dangerous land-based fuel convoys. Each barrel costs up to $400 to deliver - a major reason the Pentagon wants to reduce the military’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Photo Credit: US Army

 
 
 
 

Retired Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson calls himself  “an accidental environmentalist.”

His epiphany about climate change started with a tactical problem. In 2006 and 2007, when he served as the military’s chief logistician in Iraq, he coordinated the transport of millions of gallons of fuel across the country to power everything from vehicles to the large compressors used to cool individual tents—or, as Anderson puts it, for “air conditioning the desert.” He was taking one casualty for every 24 fuel convoys, and he was doing 18 convoys a day. That’s one casualty every other day. He needed to get the trucks off the road. He needed to find a way to reduce the military’s fuel use. 

The question remains, can the weight and pragmatism of military leadership sway political leaders in Washington?

“There’s a direct relationship between energy and the military. The more energy consumed, the less effective you are militarily because you’re more vulnerable,” said Anderson, who reported to General David Petraeus. “They love to take out our field trucks. They make a big boom when they do.”

Since then, Anderson, like many military leaders, has realized that guzzling oil makes the United States vulnerable in other ways. “I’m a soldier,” Anderson said. “Why should I be concerned about climate change? Climate change brings about global instability. That makes the world more vulnerable and it’s more likely that soldiers like myself will have to fight and die somewhere.”

 

Never mind D.C. conservatives who claim to be tough on defense and suspicious of climate science: The Department of Defense isn’t denying that climate change is a major national security threat. “The change is happening. It’s just a reality,” said retired Marine Col. Mark Mykleby, a former strategy assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Science tells us it’s coming our way.”

The Defense Department first acknowledged climate change as a factor in its operations in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. “[Climate change] may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world,” read the report.

Now the military is going green. Taking fuel trucks off the road. Developing solar energy. 

Their reasons are strategic, not altruistic. “The Department of Defense is involved in this area for national security reasons,” said Dan Nolan, co-author of the blog dodenergy.blogspot.com, which monitors the department’s positions on energy use. “It’s not economic. It’s not environmental. It’s a national security mission.”

But the message is clear. From the most practical standpoint, the United States cannot afford to ignore climate change or rely heavily on fossil fuels any longer. The question remains, can the weight and pragmatism of military leadership sway political leaders in Washington?

The Long Fight Against Oil Addiction

The military has been concerned about oil dependence for decades. “This isn’t some newly green military,” said Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate policy at the non-partisan American Security Project. “When they do have to fight a war, they want to mitigate risks to their personnel and equipment.”

And foreign oil use has long put the United States at risk. “Eight presidents have declared addiction to foreign oil a threat to national security,” said Bill James, an Army veteran who now runs a company that offers a solar-powered transportation system. “The military cannot consume at the scale it is consuming and still defend the nation. If you’re not self-reliant and able to defend the nation within its resources, you’re not able to defend the nation.”

"If you’re not self-reliant and able to defend the nation within its resources, you’re not able to defend the nation.”

James goes even further, noting that if the eight presidents, from Nixon to Obama, are correct, then foreign oil is an enemy of the Constitution. That would mean anyone using foreign oil is aiding and abetting an enemy. “Anyone,” he said, “who doesn’t aggressively cut oil consumption to within domestic production is technically committing treason.”

 
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