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Proposal: Clean Energy for National Security

The military has been at the forefront of clean energy investment. We should fund its efforts instead of giving tax breaks to fossil fuel companies.

The Issue

Problem Defined

Climate change is a national security threat. US military, bases at home and abroad, are threatened by floods and other natural disasters, while conflicts around the world are made worse by disasters like water shortages.

Dependence on fossil fuels also puts US troops in the field at risk. In Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel convoys have been among the most vulnerable American targets.

For these reasons, the military has been investing in clean energy sources for years. Unfortunately, those investments are dwarfed by the benefits fossil fuels derive from loopholes in the tax code.

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Climate change is a "threat multiplier," according to the U.S. military.MORE

The Defense Department's 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review stated:

"The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities."

In 2019, DOD will invest $1.6 billion in energy RDT&E (research, development, testing & evaluation).MORE

This includes all energy sources, not just carbon-free sources like solar and wind.

Federal tax expenditures for fossil fuels will cost more than $36 billion between 2017 and 2026.MORE

These include, among others, deductions for the cost of drilling wells, for depleting oil and gas deposits, and for injecting gases and fluids into old wells to extract more oil.

Oil companies are among the most profitable businesses in the United States.MORE

The 2018 Fortune 500 list of America's largest companies included five oil and gas companies in the top 50:

2. ExxonMobil ($244 billion in profits)

13. Chevron ($134 billion)

28. Phillips 66 ($91 billion)

31. Valero Energy ($88 billion)

41. Marathon Petroleum ($67 billion)

To reduce reliance on fossil fuels, the U.S. military develops new clean energy technologies.MORE

For example:

All U.S. Navy aircraft are certified to run on a 50-50 combination of conventional and alternative fuels, including biofuels.

Marines have been using portable solar panels to power forward operation bases in Afghanistan since 2009.

In 2015, Fort Huachuca in Arizona dedicated a 17.2 MW photovoltaic solar energy farm, meeting approximately 25% of the Army base's energy needs.

A microgrid at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California uses a combination of natural gas, diesel fuel, landfill-to-gas, solar power and battery storage.

Between 2011 and 2015, military production of renewable energy nearly doubled.MORE

Production in 2015 reached "10,534 billion British thermal units, or enough to power about 286,000 average U.S. homes, according to a Department of Defense report."

Climate change is putting U.S. bases around the world at risk.MORE

A DOD worldwide survey of installations, released in January 2018, found nearly half of bases surveyed were at increased risk of weather events linked to climate change, like floods, drought, and extreme temperatures.

Climate change threatens to create new refugee crises.MORE

The World Bank estimates that, if no significant changes are made to mitigate the impact of climate change, by 2050 around 143 million people in developing regions - South Asia, Africa, and Latin America - will be at risk of internal displacement.

2014 Quadrennial Defense Review

U.S. Department of Defense - (March 4, 2014)


The Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review (replaced in 2018 by the National Defense Strategy) served as the U.S. military's primary description of its doctrine, including assessments of threats facing the United States.

Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration

The World Bank - (March 1, 2018)


The World Bank estimates that, if no concrete actions are taken, by 2050 more than 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America "could be forced to move within their own countries to escape the slow-onset impacts of climate change."

Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure Initial Vulnerability Assessment Survey (SLVAS) Report

U.S. Department of Defense - (January 1, 2018)


The Defense Department expects climate change to have "a broad range of effects that could impact our ability to fully execute the Defense mission of protecting and maintaining the security interests of the United States at home and around the world."

Go deeper

I am a researcher, analyst and writer, with a background in national security and public policy.

Michael Purzycki

The Solution

Proposed Actions
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Eliminate tax expenditures for fossil fuelsMORE

The U.S. fossil fuel industry will fare perfectly well without more than $3 billion in federal tax breaks every year.

Double revenue allotted to Defense Department energy RDT&E, prioritizing carbon-free energy.MORE

Priorities could include any projects that result in a net reduction in use of fossil fuels without compromising the safety of US troops.

Expected Results
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The military will be less dependent on fossil fuelsMORE
The military will have new clean energy technologies availableMORE
There will be a small net reduction in the federal budget deficitMORE

The elimination of federal tax expenditures devoted to the fossil fuel industry will save an average of $3.6 billion per year over ten years.

Allotting a portion of that savings equal to current Defense Department energy RDT&E spending to clean energy RDT&E will cost $1.6 billion annually.

That will leave approximately $2 billion per year over ten years in revenue saved.

The Conversation

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