Operation Free: Military Experts Call for Clean Energy


Operation Free: Military experts call for clean energy

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an international call featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.

Our guests for the August 2016 call were Justin Ford and Rikkia Ramsey. Ford is the Organizing Director of the Truman National Security Project, and Ramsey is the Policy Program Coordinator for the Truman Center. They joined us to discuss the Truman Center’s Operation Free, which is “a coalition of veterans and national security experts who believe oil dependence and climate change pose a national security threat,” Ford said. “We advocate for securing America with clean energy across the board.”

It may not be clear at first glance how climate change specifically threatens America’s security. After all, warmer temperatures and rising sea levels aren’t exactly an invading army. So what’s the connection? It turns out, oil dependency creates tactical vulnerabilities for our servicemen and women in combat, and climate change itself contributes to threats from terrorism.

Oil dependency puts service members at risk

America’s dependency on fossil fuels contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and advances climate change, but it also comes with its own specific dangers in terms of our military. Consider conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan: in order to maintain a presence on the ground, our troops need fuel to operate their vehicles, tanks and such. They have to move that fuel in convoys — which are easy, explosive targets for the enemy.

According to a 2009 study, Ford said, “One in every 24 fuel convoys was subject to an attack that year in Afghanistan.” When you consider how many fuel convoys it takes to operate throughout an entire country, it quickly becomes clear that we’re talking about a huge number of attacks.

“That’s an enormous casualty rate because of our need to supply energy, especially oil, to the front lines,” Ford said. “It takes a lot of people to guard those convoys and costs an enormous amount.”

Powering vehicles with renewable energy would free our military from those risks and costs. Not only that, but it would also provide a tactical advantage, Ford said. “We can do these things without making us less effective. If you have a vehicle that can go three or four times as far without additional fuel, you are more combat effective than a vehicle that can go a third of that.”

Basically, Ramsey added, it comes down to diversifying our portfolio. “Guaranteeing our security in the 21st century will require new thinking about the ways we use energy at home as well as the manner in which we arm, mobilize, and fuel our forces.”

Climate change and terrorism

The looming threat of terrorism is also made worse by climate change. The connection is in “fragile states,” or communities that aren’t prepared to deal with the effects of climate change. They often have limited infrastructure and limited governance systems, so they struggle mightily when hit with a hurricane or a massive flood — events that are getting stronger and more frequent due to climate change.

In the aftermath of those severe weather events, Ramsey said, “Organizations, sometimes terrorist groups, come in and aid these communities and treat these areas as breeding grounds for recruitment.” In order to ultimately keep America safer, we have to stabilize the climate to reduce those extreme weather events that give extremist groups fertile ground to grow.

Already making strides 

“Our military is doing a lot of wonderful things in the clean energy space,” Ford said. “They see it as not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. We now have large sections of our Navy and Air Force that operate on bio fuels and other renewable energy sources. Our bases are now using solar in a big way. If you visited the Pentagon recently, you’d notice the solar panels in the parking lot.”

To accelerate that momentum, Operation Free recruits generals, admirals and other military leaders with energy expertise to give legislative briefings to both Republicans and Democrats. “We try take politics out of it,” Ford said. “Our military doesn’t base their policies on politics,” Ford said. “They base their policies on science. The Pentagon and various DoD agencies have repeatedly stated that climate change is not only real, but it’s a national security threat, and we carry on that message.”

Ultimately, whether it’s here at home or abroad, shifting to renewables is about keeping America’s men and women safe instead of putting them in harm’s way just to protect fossil fuel resources.

Hear Ford and Ramsey’s full remarks and Q&A on our August 2016 podcast, and follow the Truman Project and the Truman Center on Twitter.

Flannery Winchester
Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.