Climate Change, the U.S. Military and Renewable Fuels and Energy

A bipartisan group of retired military officers and national security officials last week issued a rather pointed statement that climate change poses a major security risk both in the United States. and abroad, and that a wide-ranging policy must be adopted to address the pending hazard.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense is ramping up its development of no- and low-emission renewable resources – including wind and solar facilities, as well as biofuels – to ensure the military’s energy security. In addition, this week President Obama ordered 20 federal agencies with national security-related missions to consider the impact of climate change in their planning, amid warnings from scientists that rising temperatures could destabilize regions across the globe.

Combined, these developments show strong leadership from the U.S. military and national security interests, which is sending a clear message: U.S. policy makers have an obligation to meet the growing threats posed by climate change using all tools available, including laws, regulations, funding mechanisms, tax credits and other steps that can accelerate the development of cleaner, domestically produced energy sources.

“We the undersigned members of the U.S. national security community conclude that the effects of climate change present a strategically significant risk to U.S. national security and international security, and that the United States must advance a comprehensive policy for addressing this risk,” says the statement from the Climate and Security Consensus Project.

The project is an initiative from the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based think tank, and the statement was signed by some of the foremost experts in the military and national security arenas, including retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and retired Adm. Samuel Locklear, who stepped down as head of the Pacific Command just last year.

The statement lists eight “determinations” that prompted their call for a comprehensive policy, including the stress that climate change will put on water, food and energy security here and around the world, and the likelihood that those stresses will result in major conflicts, state failures and mass migration. These experts say that climate change will severely impact U.S. military readiness and pose risks to critical U.S. energy and military infrastructure, as well as populations of coastal and water-stressed regions, economic hubs on the coasts and inland, and essential agricultural lands.

What’s important to understand is that the statement from the consensus project is only the latest warning from both retired and active military and national security experts, who, for years, have been adamant in their calls for strong U.S. policy leadership in the face of the growing threats emanating from a changing climate.

The absolutely critical need to maintain military readiness is the principal reason behind the Pentagon’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel use, and power installations with renewables like wind and solar, as well as fuel planes, ships and vehicles with biofuels.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and his forward-thinking push for biofuels to power his fleet and aircraft have for years served as prime examples of the kind of policy leadership needed to incorporate alternative fuels into operation supplies, increasing mission capability and flexibility, while reducing fossil-fuel emissions.

In addition to the highly touted “Great Green Fleet” – which demonstrated in exercises earlier this year the capabilities of a carrier strike group to use 50-50 biofuel blends – the Navy this month successfully test flew an EA-18G “Green Growler” on 100-percent advanced biofuel, demonstrating not only energy innovation, but a commitment to cleaner power operations.

In a world in which the United States has four percent of the population, but uses 25 percent of the world’s oil, our military – by far the biggest U.S. consumer of oil, at nearly 80 percent of the total federal government use – is showing our nation that the path to a clean energy future is not only viable, but absolutely necessary.

Earlier this month, the leak in an Alabama gasoline pipeline has underscored how consumers’ dependence on petroleum-based transportation fuel infrastructure can cause price and supply shocks. In many ways, the military is also restrained by aging infrastructure and vulnerability to energy supply disruptions that can affect their mission capability. The vulnerability of our energy production and distribution system means policy makers should stop creating roadblocks that impede the further development of renewable energy, including the production of advanced biofuels and the equipment optimized to utilize them. The military needs and wants them, but inconsistent policy signals from Washington have caused uncertainty in the investment and production sectors. Stakeholders are urged to reach out to their elected officials and call on them to take the steps needed to give consumers and the armed forces access to cleaner, more secure transportation fuels, as well as other reliable renewable energy resources.

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