There is a lot of debate and discussion about clean energy these days.
Should we press ahead as a nation to move away from fossil fuels? Should the government continue supporting the nascent clean-energy industry, similar to what it has done for decades for the oil and gas business? Do we really even need clean energy in our country?
Based on our collective years of service in uniform, totaling more than a century in both peace and war, we think the answer should be, unequivocally, yes.
The reason, in our opinion, has nothing to do with politics or business and little to do with what we all pay at the gas pump.
Continuing to move our country toward a future powered by clean energy is, first and foremost, a matter of national security.
Around the globe, our troops risk their lives daily and we spend billions of our tax dollars defending U.S. interests and ensuring the free flow of oil sustains the global economy. The sad irony, however, is that our men and women in uniform are too often battling terrorist groups that are funded by petro dollars unwittingly sent to foreign financiers by Americans every time they fill their tanks.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have watched our young soldiers and Marines die in action in convoys of fuel trucks, dubbed "Taliban Targets" by some soldiers. Last year, one out of every 24 fuel convoys saw casualties. Hundreds have died. Thousands more have been seriously wounded.
In the skies, we struggle with the ever-increasing costs of keeping our planes fueled and flying. The Air Force is the nation's largest user of energy, spending about $8 billion on fuel and electricity every year. About 84 percent of that goes to fuel our aircraft.
On the seas, climate change tied to fossil fuels is creating increased severe weather events and natural disasters. These are threat multipliers that generate instability in fragile regions and will only increase the mission load of our armed forces. Receding ice packs are opening new sea routes, creating friction over who could and should be able to operate in them.
Our dependence on oil and the problems it causes for national security run even deeper than that.
The United States currently has an estimated 3 percent of the world's proven oil reserves. Our country uses more than 20 percent of the world's production of oil each year. We simply do not have enough oil to keep our country and our military operating without continuing to pay higher and higher prices, and at greatly increased risk to the lives of our service men and women.
Without changing our energy mix, we will continue to undermine our economic stability — and with it, our stature in the world. The United States sends more than $350 billion a year to other countries just to pay for our oil addiction. That money strengthens the economies of other countries — many of which are hostile to us — while at the same time increasing our national debt.
There are some who say now is not the time to invest in clean energy, given our current economic woes. Some say the well-publicized failure of solar company Solyndra is proof that clean energy doesn't work and that government support shouldn't be an option.
That sort of thinking is short-sighted, misinformed and takes the wrong lessons from one company's failure.
In fact, there may be no better time for our country to increase support for clean energy than now, when our economy is in desperately need of jobs and emerging clean-energy companies are trying to grow — and in doing so, add new employees, many of them veterans.
The military knows climate change is happening and that our current energy posture is a growing threat to national security. Clean energy is a solution we must pursue.
Already, the Navy and Air Force have pledged to get at least half of their fuel from alternative sources. We now have planes and ships that run on fuels made from plants and algae, and bases that get their electricity from the sun and wind.
The Army is working toward a "Net Zero" strategy where bases will consume only as much energy or water as they produce.
Marines at forward operating bases are using portable solar panels to charge communication equipment, high-efficiency LED lighting systems to find their way, and other energy-efficient equipment that increases the mission effectiveness of troops while reducing the need for vulnerable fuel convoys.
All these are positive steps, but more can and must be done. As a nation, we should move forward without further delay.
Our military can win our overseas wars sooner and bring home more troops and contractors by greatly increasing energy efficiency and cutting our massive petro-appetite.
Congress, in a truly bipartisan way, should push for every branch of the military to immediately increase efforts to reduce dependence on oil and increase operational readiness. We must have long-term policies that recognize and address the direct relationship between military effectiveness and energy efficiency.
The military services know they must embrace clean energy — not because it is cutting-edge or politically correct but because it makes sense for our troops and our country's security.
If we truly want to support our troops and support our national security, all Americans — in Washington and all across our great nation — need to keep moving forward, quickly and surely, with clean energy.