President Obama’s plans to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels face a thicket of political obstacles, but he may soon receive help from an unexpected quarter: the military. On Monday a group of retired generals gathered in Washington to urge the government to radically overhaul its energy policy. Their motivation wasn't purely environmental (although their presentation was punctuated by disapproving remarks about the overly chilly winds blasting from the air conditioning system), but was prompted by a stark assessment of the menace that climate change poses to the nation's safety. "America’s current energy posture constitutes a serious and urgent threat to our national security," said Gen. Charles Wald, a former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command. "We need diversification of energy sources and a serious commitment to renewable energy."
A gathering of top military brass singing the praises of the smart grid might sound like a curiosity, but it shouldn't. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the U.S., and in 2008 its oil bill hit $20 billion (up from $13 billion in 2006.) Once you take into account the costs of guarding fuel sources and getting it to the battlefield, the true price the DOD pays for oil climbs to hundreds of dollars per gallon, the generals said. In Afghanistan, 70 percent of U.S. convoys carry fuel or water, so if the military uses less oil, it will put fewer troops in harm's way. As a result of these facts, even during the Bush administration's long years of inaction on global warming, the Pentagon forged ahead with initiatives to insulate tents and deploy solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal energy and hybrid vehicles on selected military bases.