The U.S. Military is a Bunch of Green Loving Tree Hugging Hippies

Ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Tom Friedman makes a strong case in today’s New York Times that the U.S. Military is leading the way in developing and deploying green technologies. Small economy cars start looking more attractive than an SUV to the average American consumer when gas goes above $4.00 a barrel but the military is even more heavily incentivized to think about cutting its fuel consumption since in Afghanistan it pays about $400 per gallon, has one person killed or wounded per 24 fuel convoys it runs, and spends about $100,000 per person per year in fuel costs. A $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil raises fuel costs for the Air Force by about $600 million. Friedman discusses a number of efforts to replace conventional fuels with biofuels for trucks, planes, and ships.

The view from inside the Pentagon isn’t quite as simple as Friedman makes it out to be. In an email from a Pentagon official published by The Danger Room blog, the official notes that even if the army powered all of its Humvees with maple syrup rather than gas they would still need a supply chain to get the maple syrup from where it is produced out into the field. Additionally, there are lots of suppliers of oil out there. It may go up or down in price but it is always available from multiple sources unlike biofuels made from algae or mustard seeds. Although it is a worthwhile social goal to have the military move to less environmentally harmful alternative fuels, from a narrow security point of view the most important thing may be improving the efficiency of military fuel and power consumption overall.

That being said, it won’t be surprising if the military leads the way to the future for the civilian world in coming up with new ways to power our planes, trains, and automobiles. Although in an age where the Pentagon is seen as being a technological laggard compared to the rapid pace of change in personal computing and consumer electronics, it is important to remember that the military was the first to develop and deploy the technologies that gave us radios, satellites, and the internet. Hopefully the mad scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency can put the finishing touches on a peanut shell fueled hover craft in time for the next conflict.


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