Joint Chiefs chair Mullen on “achieving energy security in a sustainable world.”

“A fully burdened cost of diesel fuel approached $400 a gallon”

Simply put, we cannot think about energy after we get there – wherever there may be. Energy security needs to be one the first things we think about before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane and before we buy or fill another rucksack….

As glaciers melt and shrink at a faster rate, water supplies have been diminishing in parts of Asia. Rising sea levels could lead to a mass migration and displacement similar to what we have seen in Pakistan’s flood. And climate shifts could drastically reduce the arable land needed to feed a burgeoning population as we have seen in parts of Africa.

The scarcity of and potential competition for resources like water, food and space, compounded by an influx of refugees if coastal lands are lost, does not only create a humanitarian crisis but creates conditions of hopelessness that could lead to failed states and make populations vulnerable to radicalization. These challenges highlight the systemic implications and multiple-order effects inherent in energy security and climate change.

Admiral Mike Mullen gave a pretty remarkable speech last month, particularly for a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He was speaking at the Pentagon’s Energy Security Event, “Empowering Defense through Energy Security.”  Here are extended excerpts:

… at the University of Arizona … an engineer named Vincent Polowski (sp) shared with me that he believed the number-one national security challenge in the 21st century would be climate change. Vincent is not alone in his concerns. And we are in fact seeing evidence of climate change’s potential impacts on our security.

Near the polar cap, waterways are opening that we couldn’t have imagined it a few years ago – opening trade routes, presenting both opportunity and vulnerability and rewriting the geopolitical map of the world. And it’s not just the people of Arizona who are thinking about these things.  Americans around the country are starting to connect the dots between energy, security and our future.

My friend and columnist Tom Friedman has spoken eloquently about – of the growing need and awareness to rethink our views on energy and minimize our dependence on overseas energy sources that fuel regimes that do not always share our interests and values while not further damaging a world that is already becoming overheated, over polluted and overstretched.

We in the Defense Department have a role to play here. Not solely because we should – should be good stewards of our environment and our scarce resources but also because there is a strategic imperative for us to reduce risk, improve efficiencies and preserve our freedom of action wherever we can.

So this morning I would like to offer my perspectives on how we think about energy, its relationship to our security and ultimately how I believe we need to look at this much more broadly as we plan for the future.

Now as I begin, while these issues are deeply important to our future, I certainly do not claim to be an expert on energy, security or climate change for that matter …

Quite simply, like most of America, my shipmates and I operated under a “burn it if you’ve got it” mentality. We were providing supporting fire off the coast of Vietnam and when we needed fuel we got it. A few years later, in fact, the very first ship I commanded, the USS Noxubee, was a gasoline tanker dedicated to keeping fuel flowing throughout our fleet.

Now, I do not want to imply that we were deliberately wasteful or reckless. We just held a very conventional view that fuel was cheap, easy and available, without ever really connecting it to any broader geopolitical implications. Clearly, that is not the world we’re living in today.

Many of us here this morning are acutely aware of the cost and challenge in terms of both blood and treasure of providing energy to our forces in Afghanistan today. And recent headlines of NATO fuel convoys being attacked only serve to remind us of these vulnerabilities. DOD is using 300,000 barrels of oil every day. The energy use per soldier creeps up every year. And our number-one import into Afghanistan is fossil fuel.

Yet there is no doubt we are making some progress. Secretary Mabus, who will speak towards the end of this session, is leading the Navy on an ambitious path to cut the nontactical petroleum by 50 percent by 2015 and sail great, green fleets by 2016.

The Air Force as well is pushing forward, focusing on three goals of reducing demand, increasing supply for renewable and alternative sources and changing the culture. And Gen. Schwartz is here and, in fact, for the last several years, from my perspective, the Air Force has led the way in this area.

In fact, all the services are moving forward. And many of these innovations, including most of the 80 showcased today in the courtyard are starting at the tactical level. Just recently, the Marines of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton arrived in Helmand with a complement of solar-powered, electricity-generation capabilities, insulated tents and ultra-efficient electronics.

When we consider the estimates of a fully burdened cost of diesel fuel approached $400 a gallon and required 1.3 gallons of fuel to use per gallon delivered at some forward-operating locations, these benefits start to really add up. This translates to fewer Marines maintaining fuel storage and distribution systems, fewer Marines dedicating their lives to protect the convoys in the routes used to deliver the fuel, or as this conference theme tells us: Saving energy saves lives.

In a similar systems approach, the Army out of Fort Irwin employed insulating foam on the roofs of its overseas deployment structures to save millions per month in air conditioning costs.  And they are now working on a shower-water recycling system for their forward operating bases. Now as much as I applaud this latest innovation, I’d probably recommend that Gen. Chiarelli, who is here today, continues to wear his shower shoes until they work out all the kinks. (Laughter.).

But I specifically mentioned this effort because while it may not sound like an energy issue on the surface, when you consider the costs of transporting – (inaudible) -fresh water, we can see how important it will be to take a holistic view of energy security and, more broadly, our overall sustainability.

Simply put, we cannot think about energy after we get there – wherever there may be. Energy security needs to be one the first things we think about before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane and before we buy or fill another rucksack. And the demand for energy is not going to ease anytime soon.

Friedman reminds us that this hot, flat and crowded world has introduced 3 billion more people to the global marketplace, all wanting their own version of the American dream, fueling an ever-growing need for energy to drive the goods and services thereby to make their lives better.

In short, the world isn’t what it used to be whether we wish it to be so or not. And we can either lead the change or be changed by the leadership of others. I prefer the former. And this endeavor, one that is so central to our future, our global future, calls out for America’s leadership. In fact, in the national security strategy, President Obama writes of American innovation being a foundation of America, American power and leadership.

And this concept, in particular, will be critical to achieving energy security in a sustainable world. And while leadership at the top certainly matters, this can’t be just a top-down effort. True innovation doesn’t work that way. Every one of us, every American must play a part – changing how we live, how we work and perhaps most importantly, how we think about these challenges.

So to start with, let’s agree that our concept of energy must change. Rather than look at energy as a commodity or a means to an end, we need to see it as an integral part of our system; a system that recognizes the linkages between consumption and our ability to pursue enduring interests. When we find reliable and renewable sources of energy, we will see benefits to our infrastructure, our environment, our bottom line and, I believe most of all, our people.

And the benefits from sustainability won’t just apply to the military. For while we account for more than 90 percent of the government oil consumption, we represent less than 2 percent of our national usage. Yet we know that government-led innovations and technology innovations like GPS, the cell phone, the Internet have dramatically benefitted our nation before.

So we have to consider the entire system with all its connections and all of its interdependencies. The national security strategy recognizes these connections and interdependencies and concludes that strength and stability at home equate to credibility and influence abroad. And more specifically, that the way our nation gains access to, develops and consumes energy has significantly – has significant security implications.

This effort is not merely altruistic. It is essential. Failing to secure, develop and employ new sources of energy or improving how we use legacy-energy systems creates a strategic vulnerability and, if left unaddressed, could threaten national security. And every one of us bears responsibility. We ought to think about energy efficiency relative to how we drive our ships, our planes, our tanks and deploy our soldiers and Marines.

There are important things to look at to be sure. But we can also make improvements closer to home. For instance, each of the services is bringing several bases up to a net-zero energy standard within the next few years – goals I enthusiastically support.

These efforts will not just achieve savings in the long run but will ensure the environment around our bases is cleaner and healthier for our people and their surrounding communities. At Twentynine Palms, California, for example, a new micro-grid controller will make the Marine Corps’ largest base an even better neighbor by reducing its energy consumption, diminishing its carbon footprint and better enabling it to be independent of California’s power grid when needed.

And these measures may help us avoid mandates to divert resources away from operations, towards medical and environmental rehabilitation due to unfortunate or unintended consequences associated with Industrial-era energy and activity. Beyond these immediate benefits, we may even be able to help to stem the tide of strategic security issues related to climate change.

This is no small matter. In addition to the newly developing waterways near the polar ice caps in 2008, the National Intelligence Council identified 20 of our bases that are physically at risk as a result of a rising level of the ocean. In regards to what the cause of these changes is, the impacts around the world could be sobering and far-reaching….

One way we can foster more service and progress is to take a long view on how we design our next generation of ships, vehicles and aircraft. When the Air Force fields its next-generation tanker it will be more efficient in terms of fuel consumption and transportation. From a maintenance-per-flight-hour perspective, it will reduce costs in terms of money, time and man power over the lifecycle of the aircraft.

And we here in town are not that focused on lifecycle costs and lifecycle impacts of what we design. We need to be much more so. Too often, we focus on a platforms capability while artificially ignoring environmental and energy costs that all come with a price to pay – some financial and some, frankly, that are generational and even more profound….

And our successful departure from fossil fuels to renewable, sustainable energy will quite likely depend on these future leaders and innovations that they bring forward. So we need to listen to them.Ultimately, as we gain proficiency in generating sustainable, renewable energy sources as a nation we build national strengths and stability….  I am proud of the work that the men and women of the Department of Defense are doing, the work many of you are leading to ensure we turn our own energy security from a vulnerability to a strength it could be.

Few of us can argue that the need is not there. Many of us can see that the right technology is emerging. And I hope all of us can agree that the time for change is now. Thank you.

I wish all of us could agree that the time for change is now.

16 Responses to Joint Chiefs chair Mullen on “achieving energy security in a sustainable world.”

  1. Remarkable. Every Tea Party & GOP member should read this aloud before they next claim to love freedom and America.

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    As i understand it, long term commitments need updates because of climate change. So oil once a resource for energy usage and geo political strategy is no longer valid. In the future force should be used to prevent fossil usage.

    Without actions there is no end to the threats from climate change. And no army in the world can operate in a climate change devastated world.

    The movie “This is War” makes a few remarks about the iraq operation and points out that the biggest enemy – at least during the first weeks of deployment, was the sand.

  3. Michael Tucker says:

    I wish the public were more interested in our future but I fear they are not. It seems that the threat level for the public has been dialed back while the Joint Chiefs see a clear and present danger. NBC kicked off ‘Green Week’ today with an interview with Tom Friedman of “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” fame and he couldn’t even bring himself to mention global warming or any euphemism for it. He kept saying, “never mind the hot part.” So global warming cannot even be mentioned on network TV. That is where we are in this dialog. We can talk about ‘green solutions’ to energy but do not speak of climate change. I sure hope that our quest for ‘energy security’ will also lead us to climate security but I doubt it.

  4. paulm says:

    # 2 Prok, nice point.
    #3 Michael, this is beyond the public now.

    Leaders, especially Obama, need to step up and take over right now.

    We are in a state of emergency and one should be declared. I think there are enough people at the top to allow for this.

    If war time action on the world situation is not implemented in the next year or so it is total annihilation for humanity. Global civilization is going to collapse at around 1C+, so if we dont start to plan for the upcoming chaos things will be worse.

    If we hit 3C+ to 5C we are toast.

  5. Raul M. says:

    Nov. And the pecan tree has leafed out again.
    Yep in November the crape myrtals are starting to
    leaf out. In Florida USA. Strange times third year
    in a row.
    Makes me all the more certain that the demand
    for cheap hats with top coats of radiant barrier
    paint will grow even more popular. Did a temp.
    test – one painted and one not – 6 degrees
    difference and it’s winter.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    Outstanding speech and great to see the military pushing forward on this – both from correctly identifying this as a huge future threat, but also the opportunities and benefits of moving to more sustainable processes.

    God, what another universe that is compared to our civilian government.

    #1 Chris, excellent point about the reading…I think it would be like chewing on glass for most of them…

  7. Mike says:

    I liked the line “…there is a strategic imperative for us to reduce risk,…”

  8. Lewis C says:

    If this is what the military brass are saying on the public record, just what have they been telling Obama in private regarding the urgency of getting a global treaty to cut fossil fuel usage drastically ? And given their far greater knowledge of the jeopardy, just what are Holdren, Chu et al saying to him formally regarding the policy of inaction ?

    With China now extending its lead in global non-fossil energy markets, and showing clear signs of pre-empting the risk of political instability due to climate impacts (long the hope of nationalists in the US State Department) by quietly expanding Chinese civil society and free speech, the inherited Bush-era policy of a brinkmanship of inaction with China is looking increasingly myopic.

    Yet Obama is content to cling to that policy of brinkmanship and do nothing new, and merely to continue the farcical circus of appeasing US fossil interests. Given the impact of his inaction on the youth vote (that is particularly aware of the climate threat) Obama’s campaign advisors for 2012, with its foreseeable oil-price spike, should be starting to chew the carpet by now.



  9. David B. Benson says:

    Chris McGrath — You assume they can read.

  10. Tim L. says:

    Brilliant speech. But I hope he takes this message straight into the teeth of the faux patriots in Congress.

  11. Jose says:

    Don’t expect him to criticize the Tea Party. Generals know better than to embarass politicians.

    I wish the hard right paid more attention to what their much beloved military is actualy saying.

  12. Mimikatz says:

    Really. This speech needed to be given to the Republican Caucus in the Congress. Keep repeating his “there is a strategic imperative for us to reduce risk” line. This is the key to broadening the discussion to include people who don’t think of themselves as “environmentalists.”

    Characterizing the issue as one of risk analysis and risk managment is key. It puts climate hawks on the side of prudence, good parenting, and responsible trusteeship and paints the deniers as gamblers, the kind of reckless gamblers that have run us into the ground over the past 10 years. That is one way to make interest in climate change seem more tough and manly, as someone mentioned the other day it is now not.

  13. Barry says:

    “a fully burdened cost of diesel fuel approached $400 a gallon and required 1.3 gallons of fuel to use per gallon delivered”

    This is exactly why peak oil won’t stop climate deterioration!

    These folks are, today, routinely paying over $15,000 a barrel for oil. And look at the pathetic “energy returned on energy invested” ratio of 1 to 2.3.

    As Bill McKibben points out, a barrel of oil contains energy equal to many years of human labour. A thousand dollars a barrel is dirt cheap compared to human labour. Just ask the US military.

    As James Hansen points out, humanity won’t avoid climate disaster by just burning fossil fuels more slowly. We have to leave most of what we know about in the ground forever.

    Peak oil will damage the economy if we let it, sure. But as long as oil is cheaper than the alternatives (including human labour), people will still want to buy it and burn it.

  14. Roger Wehage says:

    According to this 2007 article the military has been going green since about 1997. Much of this green is out of necessity; they have to cut fuel consumption, because supplying it is often too dangerous and expensive.

    But to say that using 50% synthetic fuel is going green sounds a little fishy to me. And to prove that 50% synthetic fuel really does work, they flew a C-17 coast to coast on it. For what purpose? Did they demonstrate that 50% synthetic fuel releases less co2 into the atmosphere? If so, the article didn’t say how much. If they had said 50% less fuel consumed, then I would take notice.

    While we’re on the subject, perhaps someone can tell us how much fuel is consumed each year transporting the president and congress and their entourages around the world?

  15. Barry says:

    Roger #14, the problem with using biofuel in jets is that CO2 is only about a third of the GHG from jet engines. The other forcings are water vapour, nitrogen compounds and black carbon. Biofuels still dump these. So even a 100% fossil-carbon-free biofuel will only reduce jet ghg by about 33%.

  16. Vincent Pawlowski says:


    Please correct the spelling of my name. I asked Admiral Mullen and the DoD to do so also.

    Admiral Mullen is right, its not just my concern. I developed my
    opinion based on several U.S. military and national security organization reports. Hopefully, this will help bring honesty and balance to the “debate” over the science of climate change. There is no legitimate debate. Climate change is a serious problem and needs more attention.

    My concern about the national security aspects started with this article,
    which led me to several other sources, like the Council on Foreign
    Relations, which said: “Climate change presents a serious threat to the
    security and prosperity of the United States and other countries.”
    Other reports that have led me to my concern include: “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”,
    moving onto the Quadrennial Defense Review, the CIA, etc.,
    and several other sources, like the National Intelligence Council’s
    report, which “that explores how climate change could threaten U.S.
    security in the next 20 years by causing political instability, mass
    movements of refugees, terrorism, or conflicts over water and other
    resources in specific countries.”