Monday, January 17, 2011

Going Green and Greenbacks

Retired Army brigadier general Steven M. Anderson had an article in the New York Times (on 12 January 2011) titled Save Energy, Save Our Troops.
His starting point is the very much repeated claim that “in the last nine years some 1,000 Americans have been killed on fuel-related missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It is true that there were many causalities in the past and that frequency of attacks to oil trucks in the Afghan theater increased tremendously in recent months. This misses a very important fact that protection of fuel trucks belongs to contractors, not to the US military (any more).
He may sound right by saying that “[U]ntil the Defense Department develops battlefield policies recognizing that energy efficiency contributes to military effectiveness, more blood will be shed, billions of dollars will be wasted, our enemies will have thousands of vulnerable fuel trucks for targets and our commanders will continue to be distracted by the task of overseeing fuel convoys.” But he should have also mentioned that for every fuel truck there are two trucks carrying water in the theater. Note that soldiers are not allowed to drink local water and hence all water must be brought in. So, should the soldiers drink less water to reduce the number attacks to convoys?

He also makes a grave mistake by comparing the living conditions of the US soldiers with Alexander the Great’s men did 23 centuries ago. No, dear general, the US soldiers today live in much more comfort in war zone than the men of Alexander the Great (for instance, air conditioning, swimming pools and much more). If they had lived in equal conditions there would have been much less need for fuel shipments.

True, DOD requires all structures in the combat zone be energy-efficient, through the application of new technology such as spraying foam on the exterior of tents to have better insulation. Gen. Anderson further mentions that “this initiative was saving about $1 billion a year and taking more than 11,000 fuel trucks off the road.” He complains that “despite three years of quantitative proof that insulated structures in extreme climates tremendously reduce fuel requirements, there has been little effort to broaden the scope of the initiative.”
He also makes the usual mistake of mixing up energy efficiency with energy conservation. If DOD wants to save lives, cut costs and lower its dependence on foreign oil then the first thing it should do is to reduce the unknown number of its bases, both overseas and in the US.
Despite focusing on only a tiny part of a big problem General Anderson knows what he talks about. This is something the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman lacks. Right, I am not a fan of Friedman as can be seen in one of my previous posts.
Thomas Friedman argues in his article the USS Prius that the US Navy and Marines are building a strategy for “out-greening” Al Qaeda, “out-greening” the Taliban and “out-greening” the world’s petro-dictators. He believes that the third generation biofuels the Navy is testing has “a total end-to-end carbon footprint cleaner than fossil fuels and that can be grown in ways that will ultimately be cheaper than fossil fuels.” I wish he were right.
The US military might replace oil in generators, can in the long run go all nuclear to run its ships, can to some extent use alternative and renewable energy sources to power its installations, can be as energy efficient as possible and can built as many “green” forward operating bases as it wishes to but it will never be able to “out-green all the petro-dictators.”
Friedman further argues that “if Congress will simply refrain from forcing the Navy to use corn ethanol or liquid coal we might really get a green revolution in the military. That could save lives, money and the planet, and might even help us win — or avoid — the next war.” Go Friedman!
The US military runs on oil, accounting about 80% of the US military energy consumption. Aircraft and tactical vehicles run only on oil. To replace 350,000 barrels per day of oil with biofuels in the next two decades or so is more than wishful thinking. So, going “green” and magic are different things.
Blindly going “green” for the sake of appearing green will only green the green industry, i.e., will funnel tons of greenback without any tangible benefits.

The US military must make the choice between "going green for greenbacks" and "going green without extra greenbacks".

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