The Carbon Bootprint

New report highlights relationship between security, energy, economics, climate change

It’s easy to see that some of the hottest topics of the year are climate change, the economy, energy and, of course, security. Although at times these may seem like four separate challenges, a new report asserts that they are instead symptoms of the same larger, global problem.

According to the report, the risks created by America’s energy policies and practices have combined to form an urgent threat to national security -- militarily, diplomatically and economically. First and foremost, the authors say, the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and its fragile electricity grid “pose significant security threats to the country as a whole and the military in particular.”

A Costly Dependence
The report, titled “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security” and released in May, is a product of CNA, a nonprofit research organization that runs the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research. The group convened a panel of retired senior military officers and national security experts with the goal of informing policymakers -- as well as the public -- about the impact of U.S. energy choices on national security policies.

The project’s Military Advisory Board includes a broad range of retired general and admirals from all branches of the military, many of whom also authored a 2007 report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.”

The authors assert that U.S. dependence on oil weakens international leverage and undermines foreign policy objectives while destabilizing the economy, which in turn disrupts national security.

In fact, the United States consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil production, but it controls less than 3 percent of the world’s supply, which of course is becoming increasingly limited. The authors also write that inefficient use and over-reliance on oil burdens the military, lessens combat effectiveness and costs unnecessary dollars and lives, while the “fragile domestic electricity grid” makes domestic military installations and critical infrastructure vulnerable.

And the problem is getting worse.

Adopting a “business as usual” attitude, the advisory board said, will be disastrous, as the demand for fossil fuels increases and the supply dwindles, and regulations driven by climate change concerns drive costs through the roof.

The Need for Change
“There is a relationship between the major challenges we’re facing,” Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan (Ret.) said in the report. Sullivan is a former chief of staff for the Army and former chairman of the CNA MAB. “Energy, security, economics, climate change -- these things are connected. And the solutions will need to be connected.

“It will take the industrialized nations of the world to band together to demonstrate leadership and a willingness to change -- not only to solve the economic problems we’re having, but to address the issues related to global climate change. If we don’t make changes, then others won’t.”

The report recommends that the new presidential administration integrates new energy security and climate change goals directly into the national security and military planning processes. Also, it’s vital that the United States begins diversifying its energy sources to ease its reliance on fossil fuels.

Leading the Way
Several of the report’s authors said the U.S. military in particular has a great opportunity to spearhead the development of new energy solutions. Adm. John B. Nathman (Ret.), former vice chief of naval operations and commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, said the Department of Defense is already on the right track.

“I think DOD wants the chance to be innovators,” Nathman said. “The services are already thoughtfully moving forward on energy issues.”

The authors agreed that the DOD is in a unique position to bring about change in several ways: by designing more energy-efficient systems and expanding the adoption of distributed and renewable energy generation at its installations; by fully knowing its “carbon bootprint”; and by investing in low-carbon liquid fuels that still satisfy military performance requirements.

Nathman said the department is already hosting several smart grid pilot programs at a small number of bases and hopes to eventually move them to bigger installations. Also, the branches of the military are jointly testing the concept of “net zero” installations by creating bases that produce as much energy as they consume. These installations promise to provide plenty of insight into building efficiency, energy retrofits, renewable energy generation and the use of electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, Vice Adm. Richard H. Truly (Ret.), former NASA administrator, shuttle astronaut and the first commander of the Naval Space Command, pointed out that civilians’ role in our energy future shouldn’t be diminished.

“The Defense Department is the single largest fuel user in the country, but if you compare it to the fuel used by the American public, it’s a piker,” Truly said. “The real big market is the American people, and it’s their attitude that needs to change.”

The board summed up its position in a call to the public: “Today, all Americans can help us meet our emerging security challenges. Each of us can help make our country more energy efficient. This will require a commitment to conservation and a willingness to reconsider old ways. All of us have a role to play in making our nation more secure.

“There is room for differences and for debate,” they wrote. “But there are moments in a nation’s history when the confluence of events suggests that the time is ripe for action.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Megan Weadock is a communications specialist at Monitronics.

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