The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s single largest consumer of energy. A focus within the DoD on renewable energy and efficiency improvements will help spur development in the private sector, decrease the military’s dependence on foreign oil, and lessen the burden it faces from humanitarian crises, resource conflicts, mass migrations and other devastating effects of climate change.

Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security cautions that “continuing business as usual is perilous because of the converging national security risks of energy demand and climate change,” and that the nation’s dependence on foreign oil weakens the economy, threatens geopolitical stability in oil-rich regions and increases the burden of the U.S. military. This report follows CNA’s 2007 report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, which found that climate change is a “threat multiplier” to existing security risks in some of the most volatile regions in the world.

On September 10, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing about the national security threats posed by our reliance on fossil fuels and efforts underway by the U.S. armed services to reduce total energy use and transition to a cleaner, domestic supply. At this briefing, members of CNA’s Military Advisory Board highlighted key findings from its recent report Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security and discuss its recommendations for the Department of Defense (DoD). In addition, U.S. military representatives discussed steps the DoD and the various services are already taking, on bases and in the field, to improve energy efficiency and implement renewable energy initiatives.

  • Energy, climate change, and national security are interconnected threats that need to be addressed together.
  • U.S. dependence on imported oil is a direct threat to national security because it triggers instability all over the world and limits American foreign policy options. Oil revenues allow petrodictators to stifle freedom in their countries and the inequality of revenue distribution fuels insurgency.
  • The electricity grid is dangerously fragile and must be improved. Department of Defense (DOD) facilities need guaranteed access to electricity 100 percent of the time, which is not possible when connected to the commercial grid because of outdated infrastructure and cyber threats.
  • The DOD pays higher than market price for fossil fuels because it must pay for the convoys, air support and personnel to transport the fuel to the frontlines. Shipping one gallon of diesel fuel purchased for $1.30-$1.40 from Kuwait to Afghanistan costs $190.
  • The DOD’s primary goal is the successful completion of its mission. This means no solution that would negatively affect the mission can be adopted. The DOD needs the performance characteristics of new energy options to be at least equal to those of heavy carbon liquid fuels currently used.
  • The Air Force cut its total energy consumption approximately 16 percent between 2003 and 2008, but its energy costs have increased from less than $4 billion to over $9 billion during that same period. Eighty-four percent of the energy consumed by the Air Force is jet fuel.
  • The Air Force wants to adopt alternatives to current fossil-based jet fuel, because their dependence on fossil fuels is costly and leaves them vulnerable to supply interruptions. Many of the alternatives are biofuels, which must be compatible with current equipment and infrastructure before they can be adopted.
  • The Navy’s energy strategy has four pillars: reduce demand, leverage technology, drive awareness, and increase supply. Energy efficiency actions help reduce demand. Installing renewable energy enables the Navy to leverage technology and increase supply. Energy issues are now taught to new recruits in boot camp to change the Navy’s culture regarding energy.
  • The Navy is using many different renewable energy technologies at installations across the country including geothermal, wind, ocean thermal energy, and solar.
  • The DOD has a comprehensive energy plan. The different branches look at energy issues together to prevent overlap. DOD has an opportunity to leverage the Department of Energy’s resources when focusing on energy issues and those of the Environmental Protection Agency when dealing with environmental concerns.
  • Members of Congress can highlight DOD achievements and encourage further innovation and collaboration by visiting their districts' military installations and viewing the actions they are taking to improve energy efficiency and shift to renewable energy.

Speaker Slides