Combating climate change sits atop President Barack Obama's second-term agenda, but a new report suggests the administration's energy policies adversely affect national security and military readiness.
In the Heartland Institute report,
three retired naval veterans — Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, Vice Adm. Edward S. Briggs, and Capt. Donald K. Forbes — assert that the administration's support for the development of wind, solar, and biofuels is "based on an unproven belief that carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is the major cause of climate change."
Forbes, who has 33 years of service in the military and a degree in engineering, told Newsmax: "The first thing people should take away from this report is that their energy policy is based on a false belief that there is a scientific basis to claim climate change is a threat multiplier. Second, their pursuit of biofuels and renewables is a waste of money because it is more expensive and ignores what we have available to us, which is an ample supply of fossil fuels and other sources that are cheaper.
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"This administration continues to pursue policies that restrict the use of fossil fuels, which requires us to use alternate and more costly sources," Forbes said. "It also diverts critical resources away from other missions at a time when there is less money available to meet our defense needs, including supporting troops by providing them with the hardware they need."
The authors further maintain that the Defense Department's focus on transitioning to alternative fuel sources — and away from fossil fuels — is deleterious to the military's capability to respond to overseas threats.
"There is no reservoir of alternative fuels existing in the nations of the globe, nor is there likely to be for decades," they wrote. "The common denominator for the world's energy potential is fossil fuel, now and in the foreseeable future. Its universal availability overseas plays an important role in meeting our worldwide obligations. This is the reality of effective logistics support.
"Clearly any diminution of that availability curbs the operational capability to exercise this element of national power."
Since 2010, the Department of Defense has expanded its use of renewable energy on bases, and both the Navy and Air Force have set a goal of obtaining half of their energy from alternative sources by 2020. The Marines have a goal to be 50 percent more fuel-efficient by 2025.
Even the smallest shift toward alternate fuels can be costly, as a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report
The report, which examined the cost-effectiveness of using alternative jet fuels across multiple agencies, found that the Pentagon paid "about $150 per gallon for 1,500 gallons of alternative jet fuel derived from algal oil."
The GAO stated that in an effort to promote biofuels in commercial and military aviation, the agencies paid a significantly higher price because "no alternative jet fuels are currently commercially available at prices competitive with conventional jet fuels."
Obama's Defense Department has adopted the position that climate change is both a reality and a threat.
"We have to be concerned about all of the global impacts [of climate change], including here at home, where the Defense Department does have a mission in supporting civil authorities in the event of natural disasters. We have to be concerned about all of it," Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, told Defense One.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
echoed that sentiment in a recent speech, stating that the Pentagon "must adjust our capabilities to meet new global realities, including environmental changes."
In recent years, the administration has promoted the theory that climate change endangers national security because it is a "threat multiplier," a term derived from a 2007 Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) report.
CNA's landmark report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,
introduced the theory that global warming contributes to instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.
In 2010, the notion that climate change was a "threat multiplier" was included in the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR),
and it has remained a key component of the administration's strategic plans.
The 2014 QDR states the "pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions — conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."
The Heartland study is also at odds with a report released Tuesday by military researchers who said climate change is already having an impact on national security.
The CNA Corporation's Military Advisory Board said that droughts in Africa and the Middle East are causing conflicts over food and water, escalating longstanding tensions, The New York Times
Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the report's findings, and said the conclusions are being taken into account in forming government policies.
"Think of what happens if you have massive dislocation, or the drying up of the waters of the Nile, of the major rivers in China and India. The intelligence community takes it seriously, and it's translated into action," he told the Times.
David W. Kreutzer, Ph.D., a Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change at the Heritage Foundation, said the true "threat multiplier" is not climate change, but poverty.
"The majority of threats posed to our security almost exclusively derive from poverty, not climate change. And those solutions which have been proposed will only exacerbate global poverty, rather than decrease it. The food riots that have been witnessed are not a result of climate change, they are a result of extreme poverty," Kreutzer told Newsmax.
The administration's policies may actually exacerbate global poverty, according to the Heartland Institute report.
"These biofuels are major reasons for the rise in food prices experienced both in the United States and abroad, which has created or increased political instability in many poorer countries," the report said.
Even if one accepts climate change is a threat, the prescribed solution "will have no measurable impact" because the Pentagon's total petroleum consumption is so small, the report said.
Kreutzer noted that "the cost of biofuels is very expensive" and the "added costs will only result in a reduction of funds available for other priorities.
"It will have zero impact environmentally and will likely raise the Pentagon's costs. We have to remember that we are not living in a world of infinite resources."
As Kreutzer noted in a 2011 paper,
"to match the energy delivered by petroleum-based diesel, military convoys would have to transport 12 percent more biodiesel. Ethanol as an alternative is even worse because it would require roughly 50 percent more tanker trips, which increases costs, and more importantly, the exposure of U.S. forces to hostile environments."
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Kreutzer does not disagree that the Pentagon should prepare to respond to natural disasters, but cautions that plans should be based on accurate science.
"It is not stupid for the Pentagon to prepare for potential crises that could result from drought or other natural disasters, but there is no evidence that the threat from extreme weather events is increasing," he said. "The reality is the Pentagon cannot focus equally on all things at all times, and the danger is that you divert funds away from areas where you could have a significant impact."
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