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Energy, Climate Change, and the Military: Implications for National Security

May 28, 2009 // 3:00pm5:00pm
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"Some, I think, probably are surprised to hear former generals and admirals talk about energy efficiency and renewable energy, but they shouldn't be," said General Charles Wald, USAF (Ret.), chairman of the CNA Military Advisory Board (MAB), a group of 12 retired three- and four-star admirals and generals. "Force protection isn't just about protecting weak spots; it's about reducing vulnerabilities before you get into harm's way."

Wald was joined by fellow MAB member Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.), and CNA General Counsel Sherri Goodman for a discussion of MAB's latest report, Powering America's Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security, at a meeting on May 28, 2009. Two years ago, Wald, Goodman, and two other members of the MAB spoke at another Environmental Change and Security Program-hosted event on the MAB's first report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.

Energy, Climate, and the Military

"Our over-dependence on fossil fuels" and "our dependence on a vulnerable electric grid…present an urgent and serious risk to our national security," said Goodman, who served as deputy under secretary of defense for environmental security from 1993-2000.

Powering America's Defense argues that U.S. dependence on foreign oil "tethers America to unstable and hostile regimes, subverts foreign policy goals, and requires the U.S. to stretch its military presence across the globe."

The U.S. military's energy use presents unique risks. "Our inefficient use of oil adds to the already-great risk assumed by our troops. It reduced combat effectiveness. It puts our troops more directly and more often in harm's way," said Wald. "Many of our casualties—and you've all heard of the IEDs and EIDs that have done so much harm to so many of our young people—many of those people are in convoys carrying fuel to the battlefield" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A major U.S. blackout in August 2003—which shut down water and sewage plants, gas stations, telecommunications outlets, and some elements of border check systems—emphasized the vulnerability of the nation's electrical grid. "The situation can be exploited as a threat by those to wish to do us harm," said Wald.

Innovative Solutions, With DoD in the Lead

The report recommends that:

  1. Energy-security and climate-change goals should be integrated into national-security and military planning processes;
  2. The Department of Defense (DoD) should design and deploy energy-efficient systems on the battlefield;
  3. DoD should monitor its energy use at all levels of operations;
  4. DoD should improve the energy efficiency of its installations;
  5. DoD should increase renewable-energy generating capacity; and
  6. DoD should invest in the development of low-carbon liquid fuels—such as those produced by algae—that can replace oil.

"The military is an important piece of this [alternative-energy] equation because the military is the nation's single largest user of energy," said Goodman. "What the military does can affect the nation, and the military has been a leader, both in technology and in cultural change, historically in our country."

A Direct Appeal

Recalling the sacrifices Americans made on the home front during World War II—saving scrap metal, conserving fuel, planting victory gardens—McGinn urged Americans today to take a similar approach to meeting the nation's energy and climate challenges.

"There are individual steps that every American can take: using less energy, being more efficient with the energy that we do use, supporting new policies to help our country take a new energy path," he said. "They may cost money, yes, but if we don't spend the money now, primarily thinking of that as an investment, we'll still pay, and we'll pay much more later. In fact, very likely, we'll pay in American lives lost," he said.

Drafted by Rachel Weisshaar.

 
Event Speakers List: 
  • Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, CNA Corporation; Executive Director, CNA Military Advisory Board
  • General, USAF (Ret.); Director and Senior Advisor, Deloitte LLP; Chairman, CNA Military Advisory Board
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