Tom Friedman on why the military is going green

Semper Viridis?

what could save America’s energy future “” at a time when a fraudulent, anti-science campaign funded largely by Big Oil and Big Coal has blocked Congress from passing any clean energy/climate bill “” is the fact that the Navy and Marine Corps just didn’t get the word.

God bless them: “The Few. The Proud. The Green.” Semper Fi.

Spearheaded by Ray Mabus, President Obama’s secretary of the Navy and the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Navy and Marines are building a strategy for “out-greening” Al Qaeda, “out-greening” the Taliban and “out-greening” the world’s petro-dictators. Their efforts are based in part on a recent study from 2007 data that found that the U.S. military loses one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan. Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of these convoys needed to truck fuel “” to run air-conditioners and power diesel generators “” to remote bases all over Afghanistan.

Two years ago, I sat on the Defense Science Board Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy, which took testimony and wrote a report, More Fight “” Less Fuel, on how energy efficiency and renewables makes sense “” and can save lives “” for the military. The findings are here.

Efficiency and renewables are finally getting the serious attention of even the most conservative Pentagon planner, which is not surprising given these stark military realities:

  • One of the most dangerous targets in a war zone is the convoy trucking in fuel at an equivalent cost of hundreds of dollars a gallon;
  • The single biggest contributor to the weight of the backpack for special forces is the battery; and
  • Domestic (and international) military bases still rely on an antiquated and highly vulnerable electric grid for primary power.

NYT columnist Tom Friedman has a column on the subject, “The U.S.S. Prius,” quoted above.  Here’s more:

Mabus’s argument is that if the U.S. Navy and Marines could replace those generators with renewable power and more energy efficient buildings, and run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with bio-fuels, then it could out-green the Taliban “” the best way to avoid a roadside bomb is to not have vehicles on the roads “” and out-green all the petro-dictators now telling the world what to do.

Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives. I don’t know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won’t be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, used to lead the California Energy Commission. She listed for me what’s going on:

On April 22, Earth Day, the Navy flew a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds. It flew at Mach 1.2 and has since been tested on biofuels at Mach 1.7 “” without a hiccup. I loved the quote in Biofuels Digest from Scott Johnson, general manager of Sustainable Oils, which produced the camelina: “It was awesome to watch camelina biofuel break the sound barrier.”

The Navy will use only “third generation” biofuels. That means no ethanol made from corn because it doesn’t have enough energy density. The Navy is only testing fuels like camelina and algae that do not compete with food, that have a total end-to-end carbon footprint cleaner than fossil fuels and that can be grown in ways that will ultimately be cheaper than fossil fuels.

In October, the Navy launched the U.S.S. Makin Island amphibious assault ship, which is propelled by a hybrid gas turbine/electric motor. On its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, said Mabus, it saved $2 million in fuel.

In addition, the Navy has tested its RCB-X combat boat on a 50-50 blend of algae and diesel, and it has tested its SH-60 helicopter on a similar biofuel blend. Meanwhile, the Marines now have a “green” forward operating base set up in Helmand Province in Afghanistan that is testing in the field everything from LED lights in tents to solar canopies to power refrigerators and equipment “” to see just how efficiently one remote base can get by without fossil fuel.

When you factor in all the costs of transporting fuel by truck or air to a forward base in Afghanistan “” that is, guarding it and delivering it over mountains “” a single gallon of gasoline “could cost up to $400” once it finally arrives, Mabus said.

The Navy plans in 2012 to put out to sea a “Great Green Fleet,” a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels and with aircraft flying on 50-50 blends of biofuels.

Mabus has also set a goal for the Navy to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 percent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020. If the Navy really uses its buying power when buying power, and setting building efficiency standards, it alone could expand the green energy market in a decisive way.

And, if Congress will simply refrain from forcing the Navy to use corn ethanol or liquid coal “” neither of which are clean or efficient, but are located in many Congressional districts “” we might really get a green revolution in the military. That could save lives, money and the planet, and might even help us win “” or avoid “” the next war. Go Navy!

Ultimately, the whole nation and world will be “always green” — the only question is whether we do so voluntarily in time to avert decades if not centuries of catastrophic climate impacts or are forced to do so by the reality of peak oil and global warming a couple of decades too late….

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12 Responses to Tom Friedman on why the military is going green

  1. 350 Now says:

    … especially hearing Iraq veteran Robin Eckstein of OPERATION FREE (at time stamp 1:55 of the 3 hr video)

  2. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    OT: This pretty much characterizes some people’s awareness of global warming, it’s short and will make you chuckle while wanting to cry (but it’s funny):

  3. Seems more like basic logistics.

  4. malcreado says:

    >Seems more like basic logistics.

    Isn’t the whole problem just basic logistics. Fossil fuels have required so much logistical infrastructure to get from point A to point B that the industry is fighting tooth and nail to maintain that capital investment despite the collateral damage.

  5. Barry says:

    The USA military is acting on several threats:

    — expensive fuel (up to $16,000/barrel for diesel at times)
    — peak oil (limited remaining suppliers in the world)
    — transport costs (moving tonnes of fuel around in dangerous world)
    — energy security (relying on others for critical energy)
    — climate change (increasing severity and range of threats)

    The military are pushing hard with real targets and seriousness to pull off a rapid transition to renewables to keep functioning and remove these threats.

    Climate science clearly shows we all face these kinds of threats to our families, business and civil society as well. And the window to act is running out.

    The military is acting NOW to protect themselves.

    The GOP are doing everything they can to STOP the rest of us from acting in time to protect the rest of our society.

    I find it impossible to believe the republicans have not talked to the USA military about energy and climate threats! They must have. So what kind of dangerous game are the GOP playing just to grab power?

  6. charlie says:

    Actually it is better than that.

    The pashtun trucks were use to bring diesel to Afghanistan (from Karachi to Peshwar) are all cousins, to, well, the Taliban. I’m sure they are passing along enough intelligence as well as siphoning fuel like mad.

    Bio-powered tanks would be a better bet.

    Turn all the poppy plants into e-85?

  7. MarkF says:

    an even better way to reduce loss of life, and military fuel costs in south east asia, (Pipeline) and the middle east, (oil) would be to get out.

    since that appears to be quite unlikely, yes
    I hope they produce some technological advances.

    sad state of affairs is it not, when we need to use war, to justify and accomplish scientific advances.

  8. Hugh Laue says:

    A group of design students produces the ultimate greenwash advertising campaign.

    he Backstory to GREENWAR: (from
    Greenwar aims at using design as a discourse in order to point a critical finger at what is commonly known as “greenwashing” i.e a tendency to literally ab/use ecology, turning it into a mere selling point. It also ponders over the designer’s responsibility. How did we end up developing “eco-friendly military products” in a workshop dedicated to eco-design? Here are some elements which will make things clearer about our aims and how we proceeded.
    The workshop theme that was given to us contained already a choice, a particular orientation and definition of eco-design: we were to create an ecological ‘brand’, a marketing strategy. But ecology and the market are incompatible, just like the “sustainable development” oxymoron, because it is the marketing that drives and maintains this consumer society. We cannot have a real ecological action using the very same tools that harm the environment, and we cannot live in equilibrium with the environment unless we get out of this constant destructive logic. That is why we have decided to focus on this eco-marketing ‘dangerous liaison’.

  9. Bob Wallace says:

    Let’s cut to the chase.

    If we had followed Jimmy Carter’s lead ‘way back then’ we would be well along the path away from our dependency on Middle East oil.

    We would have had no need for a protection treaty with Kuwait. We would have not been pulled into the first Gulf War. And had we not entered into a first Gulf War we would not presently be in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Let’s go back even further than Carter. Had we not needed Middle East oil we wouldn’t have propped up the Shah of Iran and gotten all enmeshed in our current problems with Iran. We could have supported the transition to a democratic government and likely avoided the takeover of Iraq by religious extremists.

    Our military stands ready to fight if they are needed. But military people do not welcome war, they know the cost, they are the ones who bleed and die.

    I’m really happy that our military is providing leadership in things green. Not only are they behaving smart in terms of conflicts of the future, they are finding ways to avoid some of those conflicts by showing us how to get off fossil fuels.

  10. Larry Shultz says:

    Great, now we can have greener access to the worlds resources. How did “our” oil get under their sand, how did our colbalt get under their rainforest. War is a racket, to quote Major General Smedley Butler. Now it is a green racket gee thanks alot but I would prefer to have a political system that is not so influenced by money and monied corporations. I prefer democracy over plutocracy of whatever color.
    The total public and private debt of the USA has been incresing faster than the economy for about 40 years. NeoEmpire overstretch with negative marginal returns is a real terrorism being inflicted on america by its elites. Rome found out the hard way that this does not work in the long run.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It is truly hideous that the only progress being made by the US is coming from the apparatus of military aggression and mass murder that is terrorising and intimidating the planet. I suggest that Friedman consider the simple truth that the ‘ way to avoid a roadside bomb..’ is not to invade distant countries and murder and terrorise their inhabitants, who are likely to fight back. And it is not his mythical ‘petro-dictators’ ‘telling the world what to do’, but the US Empire and its propagandists, as Wikileaks is revealing.
    Moreover, at least in my opinion, Friedman sinks to a real moral low when he opines that if the Iraqi and Afghan aggressions ‘lead to a Pentagon-led Green Revolution’ then these aggressions ‘..won’t be a total loss’. Unfortunately, as Friedman refuses to recognise, for something like two million dead Iraqis since 1991 and God knows how many Afghanis since the US began subverting Afghanistan in the 1970s, being dead, it has, indeed, been a total loss, and a near total loss for their families and friends.