Who Can Innovate Us Out of Our Fossil Fuel Rut? The Military

The U.S. military isn't just the greatest fighting force on the planet—it might be the greatest innovating force, too.


Thank you, fossil fuels. You have truly made us a great nation, driving our prosperity over 150 years, enabling advances in medicine, science, and powering the U.S. military to be the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen. Most Americans would want this to remain the case, but the military is now struggling with the increasing burden of its (and our) fossil fuel dependence, and it’s trying to make a change by addressing what top military leaders define as the greatest long-term threat to our national security.

Troops are vulnerable when transporting oil to the front lines as well as when protecting its free flow back to our shores. The military also knows, through the wonders of its own scientific inquiry, that climate change linked to fossil fuel consumption poses serious threats to U.S. security.

All of the big defense contractors did very well through the space race and Cold War. Imagine challenging this sector to innovate our way out of this. They got us to the moon, after all, and they easily have the engineering talent to take us to the next frontier. “We have a frontier that’s staring us in the face on energy,” says Vice Adm. Phil Cullom. Let’s get the best and brightest to work in the service of the country.

The fastest possible transition from fossil fuels to renewables leads right through the military. History shows that some of our most useful innovations—radar, internet, GPS, and more—are achieved through military need but then cross over to the civilian sector with great economic benefits to the nation. Conservatives like entrepreneurship. That much is true. Whether we like having a huge military-industrial complex or not, there’s no doubt it’s up to the job.

While the Pentagon has taken the lead on developing alternatives—an effort our military-industrial complex stands ready to support—the powerful fossil fuel industry and its elected advocates oppose them every step of the way. Given the severity of our security interests and the profit motive for innovative solutions, most Americans might expect a concern for national security to provide the common ground upon which progressives and conservatives can support an off-ramp from oil, coal, and gas.

This should be a no-brainer for policymakers. Politicians always claim to listen to the generals, so why not now? The generals and admirals know that our energy, economic, environmental, and national security are inextricably linked, and that we can either invest in renewable energy now, or pay a higher price in the future by sending the next generation of service members into harm’s way to feed our thirst for fossil fuel.

A new documentary film I’m producing called "The Burden" is telling the story of how fossil fuel dependence threatens national security. “How much more powerful would it be if we had sources of energy that weren’t geography-dependent?” asks Navy Captain Wayne Porter. Says former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis, “We’d say to the Middle East, ‘see if you can drink that stuff!’”

You can help fund "The Burden" by donating.

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