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The Military’s Conversion To Renewables Will Save Soldiers’ Lives

Guarding the fuel trucks that power America’s armed forces overseas has turned into a deadly job. The military is realizing that saving money on gas isn’t the most important reason to switch to clean fuel.

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The Department of Defense burns more oil than any other single entity on Earth: as much as $18 billion worth a year, or 80% of the federal governments’ energy tab. So when they decide to limit that oil in favor of renewables, it’s going to create a massive and instantaneous market. And while the cost in dollars is driving some of the armed forces’ well-publicized moves into clean energy, there is a more sober factor: The cost in lives.

A significant share of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have occurred guarding fuel convoys, and resupply missions threaten operations around the world. Sierra Magazine‘s extensive reporting reveals just how much defending fuel resupply lines in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us in terms of lives: One out of every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan (and one out of 38 in Iraq) led to the death of a soldier in 2007. In 2007 alone, that adds up to hundreds dead given the 6,000 recorded fuel convoys. Between 2003 and 2010 more than 3,000 troops have been killed or wounded while moving fuel, states Lt Col Melinda F. Morgan of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Energy efficiency, or renewables, had traditionally been low on the list of the military’s priorities. But the lives and lucre lost add up quickly: Humvees guzzle as much as four miles per gallon of gasoline, which can cost between $25 to $400 per gallon to deliver in the field. Clean power, argue those looking at the math, makes the military stronger.

In response, the Pentagon has unveiled its comprehensive “Operational Energy Strategy” that will perhaps turn the U.S. military into the most energy-efficient fighting forces in the world–not to save the planet, but to save money and the lives of American soldiers. The military’s emergence as one of the most advanced pioneers of solutions to energy and environmental problems is not out of altruism, but a clear recognition that the battlefield belongs to those able to operate efficiently without dependence on fossil fuels.

[Image: US Army Africa’s Flickr stream]

Reach Michael J. Coren via Twitter or email.

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About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)

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