The Department of Defense and Greenhouse Gases: Are You Kidding Me? (January 18, 2010)

I work in the energy field.  I am acutely aware of Executive Order 13514 President Obama signed on October 5, 2009, titled FEDERAL LEADERSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL, ENERGY,AND ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE. In summary,  it notes that it is “the policy of the United States that Federal agencies shall increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities; conserve and protect water resources through efficiency, reuse, and storm water management; eliminate waste, recycle, and prevent pollution; leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; design, construct, maintain, and operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations; strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities in which Federal facilities are located; and inform Federal employees about and involve them in the achievement of these goals.”

This EO is in some ways excellent, particularly if you believe that it is better to over reach, and risk ridicule for being unrealistic as opposed to being institutionally inert.  The most severe implications stemming from implementation of EO 13514, though, will be the requirements to track and reduce green house gas emissions.

As you would expect, these requirements will apply to the Department of Defense as well as all other federal agencies.  However, it should be no surprise that the military’s interest in GHG emissions only stems from policy mandates and not any anticipated improvements in its ability to carry out its mission. There is no first order effect on DOD from  GHG emissions, whether increasing or decreasing.(There might be several 2nd order effects, such as climate change causing potential migration and demographic shifts which could result in geopolitical  tensions to  which our military will have to respond, but those are ancillary to  this discussion.) DOD’’s  heightened attention on improving energy efficiency is rightly focused on what “goes in” not on what “comes out.” And what “goes in” is expensive in terms of both human lives and financial resources. Improving DOD’s consumption habits in order to reduce the use and transportation of fossil fuels on the battlefield has mission critical implications.

It is the nation’s and the department’s best interest  to  develop domestic supplies of battlefield energy sources–domestic oil, coal to liquids, or natural gas to name a few–so that DOD’s missions are not vulnerable to external stressors. It is virtually impossible to imagine a modern military using anything other fossil fuels to power its war machines for the next century or so and GHG emissions will be an unfortunate consequence of whatever fuel is in vogue. Our commanders must never consider carbon when soldiers’ lives and military success is on the line.

Climate change is a symptom of what ails us NOT the problem itself. The problem is the over-consumption of what I like to call “incendiary” energy–stuff that burns. DOD can be a major player in renewables: as a start, replacing diesel generators on the battlefield and reducing energy consumption at our installations, both steps  that will create an improvement in what “goes out.” But improving emissions doesn’t appreciably advance our agenda vis-a-vis mission accomplishment.

If DOD comes to value energy for what it is–a critical weapon of war—it will rapidly change its consumption paradigm which will, most importantly, improve its ability to carry out orders. But it will also have the beneficial effect of reducing GHG emissions.

If the discussion within DOD centers on GHG emissions, then one day we may find that the military’s current emphasis in energy was just a fad– a brief period where GHG emission were important. However, emphasizing results that don’t pertain to DOD’s core missions and capabilities will cause attention to fade, analogous to environmental issues in the 90s, for which there is only cursory interest save the lingering niche bureaucracies that were created to attend to the issue.

However, if the discussion centers on how DOD can improve its ability to carry out its mission and do so within tightening budgetary constraints, then the investments we make today will be the Modus Operandi of tomorrow’s war fighter.

Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  

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