On this Veterans Day, set aside to honor the sacrifices and contributions of U.S. military veterans, another contribution can be added to the rolls: veterans are playing a strong part in America’s transition away from fossil fuels into a more sustainable, healthful environment and a more secure energy future.
Veterans groups including Operation Free, VoteVets, and an ad hoc group of retired senior military officials are calling for more sustainable fuels and a lower carbon footprint, a position that reflects the Pentagon’s growing urgency to free its high mobility, high tech 21st century warriors from the burden of using fossil fuels that harken back to the days of kerosene lamps and horse drawn buggies. It also reflects an under-the-radar green metamorphosis in the philosophy of U.S. national defense itself.
Fossil Fuels and the U.S. Military
Veterans Day is being used by a lobbying group for fossil fuels, which has represented VoteVets and Operation Free as being in support of greater exploitation of U.S. fossil fuel resources, as reported by Think Progress. However, the issue for those groups, as well as for a group of high ranking retired officers and the Pentagon itself, is not whether the fuel is foreign or domestic. Regardless of where the fuel comes from, it must be transported to its end use, and therein lies the logistical nightmare of $400 per gallon fuel and vulnerable supply convoys that consist of 70% fuel trucks, dodging roadside bombs and snipers’ bullet to get to remote military operations that are ever more reliant on high-tech, energy hungry equipment. The solution is not more fuel to be transported but less, and that means greater reliance on high efficiency, portable fuel cells and alternative energy that can be harvested on site such as biomass, solar, wind, and wave power.
The U.S. Military and Environmental Strategy
The U.S. Army Strategy for the Environment provides one of the most clear statements of the military’s astonishing transition from a weapons-based defense of American soil, to a holistic approach that deploys a wide variety of strategies to literally defend American soil against all hazards, including environmental hazards and global environmental threats. Following the Department of Defense’s lead, the Army commits itself to going beyond complying with environmental rules and regulations, taking a far more proactive approach to sustainability that “safeguards human health, improves quality of life, and enhances the natural environment.”
The Green War of the Future
Examples of new solar installations and other sustainability measures by the U.S. military are becoming commonplace, and as of this spring the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military – the largest energy consumer in the U.S. – now gets 10% of its energy from sources other than fossil fuels. While singling out non-domestic fuel sources for particular attention, the report stated that reduced dependence on fossil fuels overall is critical to national security and saving lives, attributing about half of the military’s casualties in Iraq to supply convoys. That 10% mark won’t last long. Writer Steve Liewer reports that the U.S. Navy plans to transition to 50% renewable energy by 2020. Given the natural competitiveness between branches of the armed services, the Army and Air Force won’t be far behind – and us civvies will have a lot of catching up to do unless our legislators stop dragging their heels behind the fossil fuel lobby.
Image: Beverlykahuna on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.