published Monday, January 2nd, 2012

An irrational sabotage

America's military planners and intelligence officials typically ignore the partisan politics that irrationally surrounds environmental concerns. Instead, they study scientific data and trends, gather facts and plan how to respond to the operational consequences of environmental changes.

In the interest of national security, they already are plotting ways to cope with the climate-change-induced rise of sea levels on naval bases and transport issues, for example. And under requirements of a 2007 law, they are working to develop and deploy renewable and alternative energy sources to reduce the military's dependence on massive use of imported petroleum for their facilities, planes, ships and vehicles of all sorts.

That is good for both the military and the country. For starters, it's bound to spur the introduction of new energy technologies, and ultimately to help drive down energy costs. Both are important: Every $10 rise in the price of crude oil adds another $1.3 billion to the military's $11 billion annual energy bill. And just as the space and aeronautical programs spurred a wave of knowledge and innovations that generated myriad civilian technologies and products, the military's intense exploration into alternative energy sources is bound to translate into valuable innovations with commercial and civilian applications.

Saving lives, and costs

Even more important is the potential for saving the lives of our troops. One out of eight U.S. Army casualties in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 resulted from guard duty for fuel convoys. One of the chief reasons for the invasion of Iraq, moreover, was to secure access to Iraq's huge oil reserves in the wake of Saudi Arabia's decision to get U.S. forces -- and influence -- out of its territory.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said several weeks ago that guarding fuel convoys in Afghanistan also has imposed a high cost in blood: one Marine's life for every 50 convoys. That's why the Marines have been investing heavily in portable solar blankets and panels to recharge batteries that traditionally require large convoys to fuel diesel generators, he said. New energy-efficient tactical generators in Afghanistan could save 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel a month.

Mabus also cited the vulnerability of sailors and ships when they are refueling, recalling the attack on the Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Cole, which was bombed by al Qaida operatives when refueling off the coast of Yemen.

Yet strangely, Republicans are intensely focused on sabotaging the provision (Section 526) of a Bush-era law that directs the military to develop and deploy and clean alternative fuels produced in the United States.

The lobbying threat

Absent the political clout of rich oil and gas industry lobbyists for corporations that make a killing -- cruel pun intended -- off the higher prices associated with the nation's heavy use and of expensive imported crude oil, there is no rational reason for the GOP effort to eliminate the military's focus on cleaner, more secure alternative and renewable energy technologies.

The lobbying connection associated with the Republican effort to kill the law may well be because it also required the military -- the largest government purchaser of fuel -- to avoid use of fuels with a higher carbon footprint than petroleum, and that are associated with competition for food sources.

That would seem to prohibit the military, for example, from consuming fuel containing ethanol, which is based on corn and has caused the price of corn to double in the last several years. Ethanol production also consumes and wastes vast amounts of fresh water, and it's production clearly uses more fuel (for planting, fertilizing and harvesting corn) than its resulting volume of methanol returns.

The Republican push to kill Section 526 shows no signs of letting up, however. GOP members proposed five different riders, or attachments, to existing bills to kill Section 526 in recent weeks. They didn't survive, but lobbying to kill the section -- which was lauded by Republicans when it passed for its vital contribution to national security -- remains fierce.

Republicans should quit their efforts to appease oil industry and ethanol lobbyists. As former Gen. David Petraeus has said, development and use of alternative and renewable fuels -- from solar to wind to biofuels -- " will lighten the logistics burden, minimize tactical disruptions to the mission, and deny easy targets to the adversary (and) ... improve operational capability, reduce risk to our forces, and, ultimately, strengthen our security." With such great rewards, it makes no sense to make the military reverse course on alternative energy sources. But are Republicans listening?

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BigRidgePatriot said...

The author has a loose grasp of the fantastic savings promised from research on alternative energy sources but is totally absent when it comes to the implementation costs.

Wouldn't it be cool if tanks ran on desert sand and CO2? Oh, brother!

It would be quite a bit easier to just stop trying to project massive military power at every corner of every continent. Both Democrats and Republicans have trained us to think that the world cannot survive if we are not pushing everyone around. How has all of that "war avoidance" worked out for us?

January 2, 2012 at 5:07 p.m.

Quite well, depending on your perspective. I will be fair, since WW2, all wars in comparison have been considerably reduced.

I wish I could believe that were deliberate though. I think I'd be giving it too much credit as a happy accident. Is there a turn of phrase to describe a satisfactory outcome that occurs despite every action taken being to a different purpose?

January 3, 2012 at 12:21 a.m.
acerigger said...

BigRidgePatriot said..."It would be quite a bit easier to just stop trying to project massive military power at every corner of every continent."

That's the most"patriotic" thing I've ever seen you post. Thanks!

January 3, 2012 at 2:05 a.m.
bjennings55 said...

Cry all you like about fossil fuels, but our ships and planes still use them almost exclusively (except for nuclear power to propel aircraft carriers). Don't think you're going to get the navy to go back to the age of sail or the Air Force or naval air to use - what? - kites? Sailplanes? What power source do you propose to transition our 245-ship fleet and air forces to use, and at what cost?

January 3, 2012 at 6:11 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

happywithnewbulbs said... "Quite well, depending on your perspective. I will be fair, since WW2, all wars in comparison have been considerably reduced."

I think that has more to do with war technology and shear dominance than our "containment" efforts. Keeping troops all over the planet does not improve that advantage. If we weren't flying drones over Iran we would not have lost important stealth and RCV technology to our enemies last month.

January 3, 2012 at 5:26 p.m.

This is why I asked you to not just quote a section of my posts.

See the rest? Reply to it, as I still want a word to describe it.

January 3, 2012 at 5:43 p.m.
SCOTTYM said...

"In the interest of national security, they already are plotting ways to cope with the climate-change-induced rise of sea levels on naval bases and transport issues, for example."

Scientific ignorance abounds. Perhaps the writer should do a bit of research to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Current sea level rise, as measured by orbiting sensors since the early 1990s is on the order of 3mm per year.

Even assuming that the current trend continues(a dubious assumption*), this is only about 1 foot of rise over the the next 100 years which will have exactly zero effect upon military operations.

As for alternative energy sources for military vehicles and equipment, those nuclear power plants in use on our aircraft carriers and submarines are the cat's meow. Good luck stuffing one in an Abrams or a F-35. War machines need very high energy densities to perform the duties expected on the modern battlefield. Unicorn farts and rainbows will not do the job.

I'm all for cutting this waste of time, energy and dollars from the Pentagon's budget.


January 3, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.

High energy densities are also quite dangerous.

It might be better to find other ways to accomplish those same goals.

January 3, 2012 at 11 p.m.
SCOTTYM said...

We sure wouldn't want our war machines to be dangerous. Someone could get killed. LOL!

You must have fallen asleep when the smart kids were learning basic physics and thermodynamics.

January 4, 2012 at 10:51 p.m.
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