Real environmental leaders

Military innovation may be our best hope at saving the planet

Which of the following groups has the best chance of mitigating and adapting to climate change, spurring innovation to lead a high tech economy and developing renewable energy on a mass scale for those people and areas of the world who can’t afford it?

Is it eco-chic environmentalists who prefer tofu, eat granola and listen to folk music?

Or is it the United States military, a section of society that you may not have thought of associating with tree huggers?

Well, the answer may surprise you - it’s not those peace-loving hippies.

It’s the U.S. military, folks, and they are ramping up their investments in renewable energy and clean technology in a big way.

The Sierra Club, one of the most respected environmental organizations in the world, posted an article about how the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD) has supported mobile solar technologies due to increased fuel costs and firm demand from the military.

The article also pointed to energy efficiency, a tactical improvement, for the troops on the ground.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect from this example is SunDial, which has contracted the mobile solar technology to the DOD and has also been able to provide clean energy to areas of the world that do not have electricity at all, including remote parts of Nigeria.

In a society that is increasingly needing sources of energy to an increasingly populated planet, that is extremely vital.

Furthermore, the U.S. Navy has spent US$12 million to power a large carrier for a day, according to the Globe and Mail. The Globe also noted the U.S. government teamed up with the energy and agricultural departments by allocating up to $510 million in a bid to create an alternative fuels market for military jets and marine equipment.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and DOD signed an agreement in early August to install various renewable energy projects, including wind and solar on military bases and other public land.

If that’s not impressive enough, the U.S. government is allotting US$7 billion to U.S. Army Engineering corps for renewable energy projects in August as well.

Historically, military technology investments that have spilled from outside the battlefield have benefited society

Historically, military technology investments that have spilled from outside the battlefield have benefited society, bringing down the costs of satellites, cell phones and Internet infrastructure.

Without these key investments, society would have a completely different look in the context of commerce and the global economy.

It’s quite clear that the U.S. wants to slowly get off of foreign oil as it becomes a security risk.

The U.S. Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) mentioned 80 per cent of the U.S. government energy consumed comes from the military.

Even more noteworthy, the EDF noted one out of eight troops died or were wounded in action between 2003 and 2007 while providing security for fuel convoys. 

But maybe the most important aspect is the geopolitical security risks a changing climate will have in store.

Unstable political regions of the world including parts of the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America are perhaps the most vulnerable. Stronger storms and severe droughts may wreak havoc on global food systems, causing future violent conflict and the potential for military intervention in these areas of the world, as noted by many analysts.

In an August 2009 New York Times article, retired U.S. Marine Anthony Zinni stated, “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind ... or we will pay the price later in military terms.”

When you think about it, it is quite clear the U.S. military is taking a real lead to amp up the scale of renewable energy across the globe.

The U.S. military’s involvement, despite some suspicions from both sides of the political spectrum, will go farther than many environmentalists can dream of.

Adam Johnston is a freelance writer and writes frequently on renewable energy issues for You can follow him at or on Twitter at @adamjohnstonwpg.

Published in Volume 67, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 5, 2012)

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