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Green Building Curmudgeon

U.S. Military Leads the Way on Sustainability

Biofuels and solar power among technologies in use

The U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office explains the solar power element of the Expeditionary Forward Operating Base concept to Col. Anthony Fernandez during the testing phase of this sustainable energy initiative.
Image Credit: US Marines

In a recent New York Times article, Thomas Friedman brought up the U.S. military’s current push to become energy independent as a national security measure. According to Friedman, the “Navy and Marines are building a strategy for ‘out-greening’ Al Quaeda…and the world’s petro-dictators.” This strategy apparently evolved out of a study showing that one person dies for every 24 of the hundreds of fuel convoys run through Afghanistan. One calculation of the cost of transporting fuel to forward bases puts it at up to $400 per gallon delivered. According to an earlier article, fossil fuel is the single largest product the military imports to Afghanistan.

Military sustainability

While the idea of a sustainable military complex may seem contradictory, the U.S. Armed Forces seem to be pushing the envelope of energy efficiency, doing so from an objective evaluation of the cost/benefit relationship of maintaining the status quo of high fossil fuel use. Recent military experiments include testing fighter jets, boats, and helicopters on 50% biofuels; hybrid gas turbine/electric amphibious assault ships; and LED lights and solar collectors on field tents. In a test run of one ship, an estimated 900,000 gallons of fuel were saved on a single trip. In addition, the Navy will only use “third-generation” biofuels, specifically those that don’t compete with the food supply and have a lower total carbon footprint than fossil fuels. This eliminates consideration of corn ethanol and leads them to use camelina- and algae-based fuels.

Avoiding the politics

Interestingly, Friedman makes the point that the military is able to sidestep many of the politically charged fights led by representatives from corn-producing states that require the use of corn ethanol, and subsidies and tax benefits that go to petroleum producers. The military apparently has the freedom to make their own decisions on fuel sources—unless, of course, Congress decides to force them to use more corn ethanol, petroleum, and coal products.

Let’s hope that they are left to make their own decisions in this arena, and they come up with new fuels and technologies that will ultimately make their way to the marketplace. This has happened before with little things like the Internet and global positioning systems (GPS), which now offer wide-ranging benefits for everyone. Here’s to hoping that our military will continue to lead the way in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Assuming that history is the best predictor, we should see some big benefits coming out of these efforts.


  1. Andrew Henry | | #1

    Green Hawks
    Andrew Nikiforuk wrote a good articel on this topic that was in The Tyee yesterday. Worth the read...



  2. Joe W | | #2

    Seems odd that the military gets to make its own decisions, while we .... oh, don't get me started.

    But this sure debunks the notion that "green" isn't "practical."

    Thanks again, Carl

    Joe W

  3. mike eliason | | #3

    unlimited funds
    well, when you have nearly unlimited funds, of course it's possible to deploy these measures. if we funded r&d 1/50th as much as the military, we could have solutions to most of these problems. but then our gas wouldn't be as cheap as it is. oh noes!

  4. Riversong | | #4

    The US wages never-ending war in order to protect the non-negotiable "American Way of Life" (AWOL), which requires a reliable and endless supply of petroleum.

    The Pentagon is the worlds' largest consumer of petroleum, so the control of the world's oil is necessary in order to control the world's oil to protect AWOL. Catch 22.

    Half of the Pentagon's oil is consumed by the Air Force, and 85% of that is used to move personnel, equipment and fuel around the world in order to control the oil to fuel the military to protect AWOL. Catch 22.

    Which means that the defense of AWOL is the leading cause of the global warming and ecological devastation which is undermining and destroying AWOL. Catch 22.

    The US Navy is the world's largest consumer of diesel fuel, and now the largest user of biodiesel from GM soybeans which we can't sell to the EU and which are displacing heirloom food crops and contributing to food shortages.

    Which means that the defense of AWOL is a major cause of global hunger and strife which is a threat to, and hence requires the defense of, AWOL. Catch 22.

    We must continue to send troops to die in ___________ (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran…) to honor the troops who've died in ______________(Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran…). Catch 22.

    As Joan Baez once asked "When will we ever learn?"

  5. EJ Palma | | #5

    Military/Industrial Smoke and Mirrors?
    Thanks for letting us know what the military is doing to "green" their operations. I'm sorry Carl but I cannot applaud or stroke the military for this because it is "too little too late" as the saying goes. This whole idea wreaks of hypocrisy and control. If they can test the technology now, why did they ignore renewable technologies for so long. Our government wages preemptive wars and destroys countries for the control of oil and its massive profits. We strip countries of their natural resources, control governments, and insert puppet regimes to do our bidding. The attack and supply vehicles, aircraft, helicopters, and ships consume infinite gallons of fossil fuels in the process. We throw our brave women and men in harms way along with countless numbers of innocent civilians, domestic animals and indigenous wildlife, while we systematically destroy the critical habitat that supports all life. All under the mantra of supposedly fighting terrorism to keep our country safe. We are less safe then we have ever been, and Big Oil, Coal and Gas still control our energy policy. Most of our elected representatives are securely in their back pockets skimming the gravy train as evidenced by the Gulf Oil Spill Catastrophe. Now that public pressure regarding the defense budget forces our "military industrial complex" to address the development and deployment of renewable technologies and biofuels, they suddenly become our answer to renewable energy technology and the subsequent reduction of greenhouse gases. Remember that the funding for all of this comes directly from all of the taxpayers in this country. We never get a choice when it comes to how the military wastes our tax dollars or how much money they get to waste. It is about time that they are finally putting our tax dollars to good use. As was stated before, if 1/50th of the defense funding was funneled into renewable energy programs and biofuel development for the good of the public we could be well on our way to successfully combating Climate Change. If 1/50th of defense budget was allocated to combating hunger and poverty in our country it would make great changes in the lives of impoverished citizens. Hopefully in the end the public will benefit from the R&D of the military. It is about time that our discussions consider the political and social issues that effect and drive the greening of our nation. It is directly related to a sustainable future for all living species, the abolition of wars to control resources, and the improvement of our existing and new building stock globally. President Eisenhower and President Kennedy both warned us about the control and power that the Military/Industrial Complex wields over our country. Have we listened??

  6. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #6

    Of course we haven't listened
    Thanks to both Edward and Robert for your comments. I agree with both of you, but I have come to realize that we as a country, and especially me individually, are limited in the change we can make. Unlike the Vietnam era when the draft stimulated enough protest to change things, the government this time around was smart enough to not create a new draft, thereby avoiding most conflict with the citizenry, allowing them to go along their merry way invading countries with few complaints. I was only trying to point out that someone, somewhere was trying to make something good come out of our messy wars, out of necessity. I agree, that if we can invested a fraction of what we spend on our military on alternative energy and conservation we probably could have avoided entering the last round of mideast wars. I wish I had the energy to take on our government personally and hold them accountable, but I just don't see it happening.

  7. jaykimball | | #7

    Through DARPA and other
    Through DARPA and other programs, the Military has a long track record of innovating solutions the drive the mainstream innovation.

    I agree that ethanol is a boondogle.

    I blogged on this a week ago an put together a a couple charts on energy trends. See:

    And at the bottom of the article, there is a link to a good article on a leaked document from the German military on peak oil. It gives an government insider view of what world powers are really thinking about oil.

    Jay Kimball
    8020 vision

  8. Riversong | | #8

    There is a Simple Way to Resist
    Carl and Edward,

    Being aware of the moral and ecological depravity of the US military/industrial/financial/political complex is the first step. And it wasn't just Eisenhower who warned of the danger of this amalgamation of power:

    "Over grown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."
    - George Washington

    "Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few."
    - James Madison

    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of war, corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed. I feel, at this moment, more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.
    - Abraham Lincoln

    But each of us has the power - and the moral obligation - to withdraw our consent and complicity with the Machine of War. Since 50% of our federal income taxes have gone to pay for present, past and future costs of warfare, oppression, state terrorism and ecological devastation, we can simply refuse to pay. If enough of us were to do so, the Machine would come to a stop.

    I have refused to pay any federal income tax for more than 30 years. While I have not changed the world (yet), at least the world has not co-opted me into its madness, and my public advocacy of war tax resistance has at least inspired if not enabled many others to consider the same - and it frightens the Powerful more than any other form of protest:

    “Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes.”
    -Alexander Haig, U.S. Sec. of State for Reagan (1981-1989), June 12, 1982
    commenting on demonstrations by anti-nuclear weapons protestors

    “If a thousand men [and women] were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”
    -Henry David Thoreau

  9. Riversong | | #9

    The Ultimate GreenWash
    Pentagon's Christmas Present: Largest Military Budget Since World War II
    By Rick Rozoff

    On December 22 both houses of the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a bill authorizing $725 billion for next year's Defense Department budget, $17 billion more than the White House had requested.

    The proposed figure for the Pentagon's 2011 war chest includes, in addition to the base budget, $158.7 billion for what are now euphemistically referred to as overseas contingency operations: The military occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

    The amount is the highest in constant dollars since 1945, the final year of the Second World War. With recent U.S. census figures at 308 million, next year the Pentagon will spend $2,354 for every citizen of the country.

    Next year's defense authorization of $725 billion, according to the Center for Defense Information, compares to (in 2004 constant dollars), a Pentagon budget of $444.6 billion in 1946; $460.4 billion in 1968, the highest yearly amount during the Vietnam War; and $443.4 billion in 1988, the highest during the eight years of the Ronald Reagan administration's massive military buildup.

    The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates American military spending for 2009 to have accounted for 43 percent of the world total. Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, earlier this year estimated the 2010 U.S. defense budget to constitute 47 percent of total worldwide military expenditures.

    In addition, Pentagon spending has increased by 100 percent since 1998 and "the Obama budget plans to spend more on the Pentagon over eight years than any administration has since World War II."

    With 2.25 million full-time civilian and military personnel, excluding part-time National Guard and Reserve members, the Defense Department is the U.S.'s largest employer, outstripping Walmart with 1.4 million employees and the U.S Post Office with 599,000.

    "Add in what Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and the Energy departments spend on defense and total US military spending will reach $861 billion in fiscal 2011, exceeding that of all other nations combined," according to Todd Harrison, senior fellow for Defense Budget Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

    "Adding the interest component to the previous all-agency total, the grand total comes to $1,027.8 billion, which is 61.5 percent greater than the Pentagon's outlays alone."

    Based on constant 2010 dollars, the Ronald Reagan administration spent $4.1 trillion on the Defense Department, the Georgia W. Bush administration spent $4.65 trillion and Barack Obama plans to spend more than $5 trillion.

    Comparing the two previous largest post-World War Two surges in U.S. military spending to the current one:

    From 1958-1968: 43 %
    From: 1975-1985 57 %
    From: 1998-2011 100%

    The U.S. share of global military spending grew from 28 percent during the Cold War to 41 percent by 2006 and that of NATO member states from 49 percent to 70 percent in the same period.

    Contrariwise, the group of potential adversary and competitor states has gone from claiming a 42% share to just 16% in 2006.

  10. Anonymous | | #10

    Refusing to pay taxes
    You physically refuse to pay taxes? Or you only take on the minimum of work to not have to pay taxes? These are two very different things.

  11. Riversong | | #11

    Anonymous (perhaps an IRS agent?),

    If you'd care to share your name and what your personal interest or history is in this, I'd be glad to respond.

    And, yes, making a taxable income and refusing to pay taxes is different from living on a non-taxable income, but the latter is arguably more consistent with peacemaking.

    Some war tax resisters earn a "normal" income but divert their tax liability to groups working to undo the damage of war or providing the social services that are unavailable due to our obscenely high war expenditures competing with social services. Others choose to avoid the possibility of a legal battle with the IRS by living below the taxable threshold, and that also drastically reduces one's participation in the consumer culture which requires war-making to keep the resources flowing. There are many ways to resist and refuse or withdraw complicity.

    Or you can get more information from the groups I've been involved with:

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