May 12, 2014
By Lt Gen (ret) Norman R. Seip, USAF
Note: May 17, 2014, is Armed Forces Day, a holiday established in 1949 by President Harry S. Truman as a single day for U.S. citizens to thank all military members for their service. On the occasion of the first Armed Forces Day, Truman recognized the military for progress toward its “goal of readiness for any eventuality,” a goal that endures today.
The Pentagon is leading the charge toward a secure renewable energy future. Senior military and national security leaders agree: a single-source dependence on fossil fuels – primarily oil – endangers our troops in combat zones and threatens our long-term security interests.
Additionally, our continued reliance on these dirty fuels is worsening the impacts of climate change. The effects of shifting weather patterns are already destabilizing vulnerable regions of the world, and international instability could force the military into an ever-rising number of resource-driven conflicts.
While the civilian “debate” on these issues trudges on – hampered largely by politicians beholden to petroleum interests – the Department of Defense has recognized that reducing fossil fuel dependence, investing in clean energy technologies, and incorporating climate change into national security strategies are operational, tactical, and strategic imperatives.
To strengthen our national security and prevent more of our servicemen and women from being sent into conflicts abroad, our civilian leaders would be wise to follow the lead of the military and increase our commitment to employing clean energy and combatting the threat of climate change.
The national security risk of fossil fuel dependency
Energy is the lifeblood of the military, and our armed forces remain heavily reliant upon fossil fuels. In combat zones, everything on a forward-operating base is powered by oil, including the heating and cooling of tents, the powering of vital communications equipment, and the patrol vehicles themselves.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, our servicemen and women were put at great risk in order to protect supply routes for the fuel convoys that provided vital power supplies to remote forward-operating bases. These convoys were quickly recognized as easy targets for the enemy. From 2003-2007, one in twenty-four fuel convoys resulted in a service-member killed or injured, claiming the lives of over 3,000 Americans.
The national security threat of our single-source dependence is not limited to the battlefield. As the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world, the Department of Defense is extremely vulnerable to price shocks, which puts strain on the military’s budget.
And while the day-to-day price of oil is important, there are larger costs to consider. We expend vast resources just to maintain stability in dangerous oil-producing regions of the world, including patrolling global choke-points and keeping international shipping lanes open.
This current energy posture is further exacerbating quite possibly the greatest security challenge facing our military today: climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is driving up carbon emissions to dangerous levels.
The impacts of climate change – including severe droughts, record heat waves, extreme storms, food shortages, mass migration, and rising sea levels – will be felt worldwide. Destabilization in already weak states will exacerbate existing security threats and pose a serious threat to those whose mission it is to protect and serve.
Leadership in action
I am proud to have dedicated my entire life of service to our great nation and protecting our national security. Throughout my 35 years on active duty in the United States Air Force, I gained a thorough understanding of the impact our dependence on fossil fuels has had – and continues to have – on our national security. Our dependence along with climate change and what it portends for our security is why I along with many of my fellow retired general and flag officers are so committed to raising awareness and advocating for solutions to address these two threats facing our military and the nation.
The military instills a culture of winning; this requires a strong will to address even the most daunting national security challenges head-on. To reduce our dependence on oil and address the impacts of climate change will not be easy, but our long-term security depends on it.
I am proud to say the military is rising to the challenge; the Pentagon has already set aggressive policies to tackle and mitigate both security challenges.
A plan for the future
The military is already taking the lead to address these challenges by developing alternative fuels, investing in essential energy productivity technologies, and deploying renewable energy in the field and at home.
Our Marines and Soldiers are now deploying with solar backpacks to charge vital communications equipment, cutting down on the number of dangerous fuel resupply missions. The Navy is powering its ships with hybrid propulsion systems and developing next-generation biofuels to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, extend range, increase endurance, and heighten agility. The Air Force is improving aviation energy efficiency and investing in on-site renewables.
And just last year, the military committed to generating 20 percent of its electricity on installations from renewable sources by 2020. This gives base commanders more energy options and greater flexibility to carry out their missions.
While we pursue strong mitigation policies, the fact remains we have already planned for a certain amount of climate change. The Department is developing climate-based adaptation plans for all institutions, and the military is working with our allies and partners to develop strong humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities.
All of these actions will make the military a more capable force, reduce emissions, and address the geopolitical security challenges of this century. American innovation will enable us to forge forward, and I am proud our military leaders are working to remain the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen.
Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip is former Commander, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he was responsible for the operational readiness of 12th Air Force Active Duty and gained wings of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. He is also a spokesman for the energy security campaign Operation Free, a bi-partisan coalition of veterans from across the country.