The Military Is Shifting Towards Renewable Energy – Will We Follow Its Lead?

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy — This is big news. Once again, it appears the American military will lead the way. Not only is it protecting us from our enemies in the campaign against terrorism, but it is also pioneering the fight against our dependence on fossil fuels.

As the New York Times reported the other day, military officials have started to push aggressively for equipping the army with renewable energy sources. The main motive is a practical one-too many Americans are getting killed transporting fuel to military bases in the Middle East, and the process is extremely costly, reaching $400 per gallon in some instances: “one Army study found, for every 24 fuel convoys that set out, one soldier or civilian engaged in fuel transport was killed.

In the past three months, six marines have been wounded guarding fuel runs in Afghanistan.” In other words, the trucks that move diesel around are easy targets for the enemy, and soldiers who could be best utilized on the battlefield are relegated to guarding fuel convoys.

Now the army has begun to install a new system featuring “portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment.” A Navy secretary named Ray Mabus says he expects renewable sources to account for 50% of the energy consumed by the Navy and Marines by 2020. Furthermore, “the Air Force will have its entire fleet certified to fly on biofuels by 2011.”

This is a huge transformative development in a period during which we have otherwise witnessed endless disappointment in the realm of energy. From the Bush administration’s resistance to climate change science and cynical succor to oil companies to Obama’s failure to enact cap-and-trade legislation, our civilian leadership has proved unable to adequately meet the challenge thus far (although Obama has done more than people give him credit for, as will be explained).

But, as has often been the case in American history, the military and scientific community are taking charge. According to Ray Mabus “the Navy had pioneered previous energy transformations in the United States, from sail power to coal power in the 19th century, as well as from coal to oil and oil to nuclear power in the 20th century.”

America achieved superpower status during the 20th century largely because of its military and scientific community. The two combined to win World War II with heroic fighting on the battlefield and brilliant innovation in developing the nuclear bomb. The race to the moon was another significant victory for American science, as was the explosion of the internet during the 1990’s.

Today’s challenge of transcending fossil fuels is perhaps as crucial as winning the race to nuclearization was during the 1940’s, and it would be fitting if the military and scientific community paved the way once more. However, this time around we seem to be leaving it up solely to our most talented people.

During World War II the nation was more involved in the war effort since there was a draft. Now no such thing exists (thankfully). But we all must participate in the struggle against fossil fuels. And it appears change can come only from the government, which must live up to Lincoln’s ideal and do what the people cannot do themselves.

Consequently, Obama’s done much and little. On the one hand, his stimulus package included the largest ever investment in research and development in science, with a sharp focus on aiding renewable technology. One outcome of his efforts is that America has started to produce electric cars, and the government is providing strong incentives for people to buy them, such as tax breaks, rebates and home-charging units. But more must be done. A drastic overhaul of the entire system is necessary.

Restructuring the army’s energy apparatus should be a giant leap in the right direction, but we and our government must take action as well. Whereas the military can transform itself based on generals’ orders, our democracy can reinvent itself only if we elect representatives who understand the realities of the situation.

As such I consider the war on fossil fuels/global warming to be similar to the war on terror in that it’s mainly a war of ideas. We need to convince Americans that this is a serious problem that has real consequences and attainable solutions. The most obvious measure is to try to educate as many people as possible to muster the requisite political will to change.

When and if the U.S. returns to the use of a military draft, it would be clearly unconstitutional. It is a violation of the Fifth Amendment which forbids the government from depriving anyone of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Being forced into the military has the potential to deprive someone of all three.

Military personnel are subject to being sent into a war or other armed conflict at any time. When this occurs, their lives are obviously put in great jeopardy, as they become instant targets of enemy forces. They are expected put to their lives on the line by facing down the enemy whenever they are called upon to do so.

It is not uncommon for a dozen more U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines to be killed in a single day while in a hostile environment. While it’s possible for one to be killed in an accident or as a result of violence no matter what their occupation or lack thereof, the risk of being killed in the line of military duty is part of its job description.

The liberty of people who are in the military is severely restricted, compared to that of those in civilian life. They cannot do whatever they want or go wherever they wish. They must obey the dictates of their superiors or risk serious consequences.

And if they don’t like an assigned task, they can’t just quit and go elsewhere. Also, they can’t always speak their minds as civilians can. They cannot protest. That includes not being allowed to tell their commanding officer to take his orders and shove them. In some ways, it’s similar to being imprisoned.

Renewable Energy

Military service often forces people to forfeit property that they would otherwise be able to keep. They often have to give it up because they are never around to provide upkeep for it or defend it from damage, use, or theft by others.

Military duty also makes people unavailable for other, more lucrative, employment opportunities which could result in the retention of property and/or the acquisition of more. And consider the effect it has on small business owners and other entrepreneurs. Many of them lose their businesses as a result of going away for full-time service.

As we can see, forced military service is a major infringement on one’s Fifth Amendment rights. Any court basing its decision-making process on the U.S. Constitution would logically have to bar the government from re-instituting military conscription.

Don’t get me wrong – my point here is not to denigrate military service. Not by a long shot. The things I have pointed out only underscore the great sacrifices made by those honorable men and women who willingly serve their country in this way. I’ve always been in favor of our service men and women getting higher and pay and better benefits. I can’t think of a single sector of our society that is more deserving.

The U.S. military is a kick-butt machine that can stand down any other on the face of the earth. Like many have noted before, it is the greatest fighting force in the history of mankind. But it has been built completely with volunteers. Why tamper with success, compromise national security, and violate people’s constitutional rights at the same time?

Today’s military is not only a powerful organization protecting the world and the country, it is a great way to obtain an impressive education as well as on the job experience. This experience is very important when the soldier leaves the service and enters the private sector because it gives them a leg up on the competition.

There are many career paths a soldier can choose in this modern army: medical, computers, communications, mechanic, pilot, administration, journalist and so many more. Here are a few examples of how the combination of military education and real hands-on experience translates into the private sector career path.

Medic to Doctor

One of the most prized people on the battlefield is the Medic. This person is responsible for maintaining the health, and sometimes the life of every soldier in their unit. This experience, once they leave the military, sets them up for a career in medicine whether it as a doctor, nurse, technician or surgeon they will have the knowledge and the experience to be ready for anything coming their way.


The modern army is using computers more and more all the time and the complexity of the systems used require some in-depth training for those military personnel who handle the cyber areas of the military. This skill and experience translates into dozens and dozens of possible career possibilities in the private sector. Soldiers who come of the military with heavy computer experience will find that they will be seriously in demand in many areas of business.


Our military has taken communications to levels previously unheard of, as units are able to communicate with each other through radio, the Internet and via satellite. Taking this communication experience and know how out of the military and into the real world opens doors in communication and networking companies. These companies are constantly expanding and looking for new and strongly skilled employees and the military produces just those people.


Because computers are all over the world and involved in everything there are people who will always try to disrupt them and take control for nefarious reasons. This is something the military takes very seriously and they have trained cyber soldiers who specialize in network security and protection. Private sector companies, value their data and security as much as anyone else, if not more so, and they are always looking for people with better skills than the hackers they need to defend themselves from.

The military takes normal men and women and turns them into highly trained and motivated soldiers as well as strongly skilled members of a workforce. The skills learned during military service are skills that can carry a person from civilian to soldier and back to a civilian with needed and demanded skills.

These skills can help the soldier land a career and be well on their way to a life of accomplishment. The military is not only about creating soldiers, it’s about life after the military and your career opportunities when you cycle back to the world.

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