October 20, 2009

Events from Around Town: U.S. Military Energy Strategies

I sat down last night preparing for 3+ hours of panel and PowerPoint presentations. While this came to fruition, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the diversity of my colleagues at the dinner table. Although I enjoy a good lecture, having it commentated by a nuclear physicist, energy consultant, and Senate staffer added immensely to my experience.

To get right down to the nuts and bolts of it, I attended part of a lecture series called “The Energy Conversation.” This is a great program that aims to “foster and showcase the unprecedented collaboration between government, industry, and non profits” in order to “successfully build a sustainable energy future.”  The specific lecture I attended was even more interesting: “U.S. Military Energy Strategies.” The panel represented some of the finest in our armed forces working on energy issues, including members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Office of the Secretary of Defense.  I highly suggest checking out their biographies and getting acquainted with their programs.

First off, all of the speakers framed their approaches to combat climate change in terms of their congressionally mandated goals. Dr. Kevin Geiss of the Army specifically mentioned that until there was executive leadership, there was a fear of moving forward. He pointed to Executive Order 13514 and the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010 as specific mandates that motivated the Army to tackle climate change more seriously.

They all agreed on the importance of setting up task forces and really examining energy usage within their services. Perhaps because they were all heads or possible leaders of such task forces; but more likely because understanding where work needs to be done and what possible solutions are is just a good idea. The Marine Corps representative openly admitted to copying the Navy’s system of Task Forces Energy and Climate Change and said that they were standing up a Marine Corps Energy Office. The Coast Guard speaker followed his example saying they were going to stand up a Task Force Energy for the Coast Guard.

All of the speakers talked about the fully burdened cost of fuel, how increasing efficiency and stepping up development will work to achieve energy goals, the need to reduce the number of troop guarding convoys, and the tactical advantages that can be gained from using energy more efficiently. The services by and large agreed that action needed to be taken, that there were economic and tactical implications for fuel use, and that a good strategy would incorporate the near- and long-term futures.

However, there were some differences between the services. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Amanda Dory unequivocally stated that they are looking at energy and climate together and that any separation of the two would be a mistake. This was a sentiment echoed by the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and, much more hesitantly, by the Army. While the Air Force representative did not dispute the linkage, he did say that it was not the focus for the Air Force at this time. He was, however, the only panelist to put a heavy emphasis on changing the culture of the Air Force and emphasizing that it should be a bottom up change.

The last interesting note of the night came when DASD Amanda Dory said that one of the ways that the military could lead in energy and climate change is by exerting our “moral authority,” and that doing so would help improve our image abroad. I think it says a lot that an OSD representative addressed a conference on military energy strategies to talk about the moral imperative of taking visible action on climate change. While we still have a long way to go, it is quite clear that we have come a long way.