Climate change and oil dependence are issues of national security, and the Pentagon will take a lead role in shifting the way the country uses energy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last night.
In remarks made at a Washington, D.C., reception held by the Environmental Defense Fund, Panetta became the highest-level official to draw a clear line between environmental, energy and security issues since their relationship was formally established in Pentagon strategy two years ago.
“In the 21st century, reality is that there are environmental threats that constitute threats to our national security,” he said last night. With carefully chosen words, the Defense secretary stopped short of naming individual threats, such as the standoff with Iran that has raised global oil prices, instead laying out a strategic framework for how the military thinks about and is acting on long-term environmental and energy issues.
At a time when the scientific grounding of climate change and the military’s alternative energy investments are under assault from some members of Congress, Panetta signaled a personal investment in the issues — a gesture that was not lost on a room packed with many of the country’s top environmental and security experts (Greenwire, Feb. 23).
“As someone who now faces a budget shortfall exceeding $3 billion because of higher-than-expected fuel costs, I have a deep interest in more sustainable and efficient energy options,” Panetta said, pointing to the services’ commitment to adding 3 gigawatts of renewable energy in the coming years and emphasizing the military’s history of anticipating trends.
Panetta may not have offered any new initiatives or policies, but an endorsement from the Pentagon’s top official sends an important signal both within the ranks and to the rest of the country, said Dan Nolan, a retired Army colonel who runs an energy security firm.
“This gives the issue command emphasis,” he said.