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Military leads march to shrink US carbon 'boot print': study

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 20, 2010
From solar-powered water purification systems in Afghanistan to a Navy jet fueled in part by biofuel, the US military is taking a lead role in shrinking the US carbon "boot print," an independent report said Tuesday.

The US Department of Defense accounts for 80 percent of the US government's total energy consumption energy needs, and most of the energy it uses currently comes from fossil fuels, the report by the Pew Research think tank's Project on National Security, Energy and Climate says.

But moves are afoot in all branches of the military to change that.

The army and air force have several bases that are partially powered by solar energy, one of which -- Fort Irwin in California -- is expected to be able to stop taking energy from the public electricity grid within a decade.

The navy has set itself a key goal of getting 50 percent of fuel used ashore and afloat from non-fossil sources by 2020, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told a telephone news conference after the report was issued.

The navy will also test-fly this week its "Green Hornet" F-18 fighter jet, which runs on a mix of biofuel made from camelina, a plant in the mustard family, and aviation fuel, he said.

"Unlike first-generation corn ethanol, camelina is a plant that can be used in rotation with things like wheat instead of letting the land lie fallow. So it doesn't take food out of the supply chain, but it does provide American farmers with another crop they can grow," Mabus said.

And the US Marine Corps, working with the army, has applied energy-efficiency foams to temporary structures in Iraq that reduce energy consumption by up to 75 percent.

With its history giving the world transformational technology like the Internet and GPS systems that help car drivers to navigate, the report predicts that the steps the US military is taking now to beat back climate change will lead to a raft of innovations that enhance energy-efficiency for both the military and the general public.

Those could include new alternative fuels, advanced energy storage and more efficient vehicles on land, in the air and at sea, it said.

But one of the primary reasons for the greening of the US military was to achieve energy independence, which the report said is closely tied to national security.

"We have to break away from sources of foreign energy and particularly fossil sources of foreign energy, first from a strategic standpoint, second from a tactical standpoint," said Mabus.

"This would also have the benefit of making us better stewards of the environment and helping our country to move toward a different economy, which we cannot afford to fall behind in.

"Other countries are making vast strides in these alternative energy fields and as the economy of the world moves toward that, America has to be in the forefront. The Department of Defense and individual services can help lead this change that America has to go through," said Mabus.

Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's climate and energy program, called on US lawmakers to back what the military is doing on the climate change and energy efficiency fronts by passing comprehensive climate change legislation.

"It should put a price on carbon, invest in energy innovation and help deploy renewable energy," she said.

"Doing so will make us more prosperous, reduce pollution, and enhance our national security," she said.

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