Under the Radar
The Department of Defense might not care about the environment, but it's quietly leading the quest for renewable energy.
The Department of Defense might not care about the environment, but it's quietly leading the quest for renewable energy.Last summer, Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer, the head of coalition forces in western Iraq, sent an "urgent request" to the Pentagon, asking for new gear. At the top of his list was a "priority 1" plea for renewable power stations, equipped with "solar panels and wind turbines."It's not as if General Zilmer was suddenly worried about global warming instead of insurgents. Constantly resupplying out-of-the-way bases with fossil fuels puts troops at risk of "serious and grave casualties" on Iraq's roadways, Zilmer noted in his request. Not to mention the expense: Factor in transportation and storage, and the price of a gallon of fuel in Iraq can be as high as $400. Green power had become a battlefield necessity.Efforts like these have put the Defense Department at the vanguard of a new wave of self-interested environmentalists-motivated not by calls to conscience, but by calls to the bottom line, and to personal and corporate preservation. Companies and individuals could learn a thing or two from the men in uniform, like being realistic in their investments, and not becoming married to a single clean-power technology. The Pentagon's new environmentalism also contains a hard lesson for anyone looking to throw spitballs at these untraditional greens. Motivation doesn't matter. Results do. And if generals, carmakers-or even oil-company execs-suddenly find it's best for them to get on the clean-power bandwagon, we should welcome them on board, not question why they're here. "Before, this was always viewed as a zero-sum game-you were either environmental or profit-driven," says Ethan Zindler, an analyst at New Energy Finance. "But with $60 barrels of oil, the two now go hand in hand. And that's good for everybody."The Defense Department is the world's largest energy consumer, spending $10.6 billion annually, almost two percent of the entire country's use. So there's plenty of motivation for the military to wean itself off of fossil fuels. It has already made a pretty decent start: In September 2005, the federal government decreed that 7.5 percent of its power should come from renewable sources by 2013. The Pentagon is already there.
|The Pentagon has a hard lesson for anyone looking to throw spitballs at these untraditional greens.|