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Mullen: Military Has ‘Strategic Imperative’ to Save Resources

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2010 – The military has a “strategic imperative” to lead the nation in environmental conservation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

“We in the Defense Department have a role to play here -- not solely because we should be good stewards of the environment and our scarce resources, but also because there is a strategic imperative for us to reduce risk, improve efficiencies, and preserve our freedom of action whenever we can,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said.

Mullen made the comments at the Pentagon as part of his keynote address at the Defense Department’s first energy security forum. The forum included panel discussions by military leaders and department officials, and showcased the services’ environmental innovations.

There is evidence around the world of the impact of climate change, such as melting polar ice caps which are “rerouting the geopolitical maps of the world,” Mullen said. And, he said, Americans are beginning to see the links between the environment and global security.

The younger generation, having grown up with more environmental awareness, is in a good position to lead the change, Mullen said. He recounted the disregard most Americans gave to the environment when he joined the Navy in the 1960s.

“Our version of energy security was knowing where the next oiler [refueling ship] was going to be,” he said. “Like most of America, my shipmates and I operated under a ‘burn it if you got it’ mentality.”

Americans -- and earlier generations of servicemembers -- were not deliberately wasteful, Mullen said, rather “we just held the very conventional view that fuel was cheap, easy and available without ever really connecting it to any broader geopolitical implications.

“Clearly, that is not the world we live in anymore,” he added.

The nation loses both blood and treasure in its consumption of fuel and other resources, Mullen said. The department uses about 300,000 barrels of oil each day, and fossil fuels are the No. 1 import into Afghanistan, he said. The delivery of fuel and other petroleum products there provides an inviting target for insurgents who attack supply convoys, injuring and killing servicemembers, he noted.

All the services are making strides in reducing their fuel consumption, Mullen said. The Navy is on track to cut non-tactical petroleum use in half by 2015; the Air Force is reducing demand and increasing renewable and alternative fuels; Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., deployed to Afghanistan with solar-powered generators; and soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif., recently deployed with insulated-foam tents that save millions of dollars per month in air conditioning costs, he said.

The Army also is taking steps to reduce water consumption -- another major deployed resource -- with a new shower-water recycling system, the admiral added.

Conservation efforts need to be thought out before troops deploy, Mullen said. “Energy security needs to be one of the first things we think about -- before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane, and before we buy or fill another rucksack,” he said.

Conservation of natural resources is so central to the world’s future that it requires American leaders -- and U.S. military leadership, Mullen said.

“We can either lead the change or be changed by the leadership of others,” he said. “I prefer the former.”

Because of the interdependence with which people live and how organizations like the military operate, Mullen said, “this effort is not merely altruistic; it is essential.” An example, he said, is the reliance on the public power grid, which some military installations are working to move away from, because of its vulnerability to natural and manmade disasters.

Worldwide, rising sea levels could lead to mass migration and displacement similar to what has occurred in the aftermath of recent severe flooding in Pakistan, the chairman said.

The services are making progress in procuring weapons systems that are more energy efficient, but more attention must be paid to environmental costs instead of focusing only on capabilities, Mullen said.

“Fortunately, I believe this is an area where we can learn from our young people who are from a generation that grasps the need to get the mission accomplished while managing our resources and valuing our environment,” he said.

 

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