One of the lead Times stories this morning concerns the efforts of the U.S. military – spurred on by extraordinary logistical difficulties posed by the remote and energy-resource-poor battlefields of Afghanistan – to rapidly integrate renewable energy sources into its operations. Assuming the sea change being talked about here has some reasonable relationship with reality, then this is great. As the article notes, the market power of the Pentagon is staggering, and a rapid increase in military demand for renewable energy technologies could spur the kind of investment in such advances that’s been so sorely lacking in this country.
Admittedly, this leaves me somewhat ambivalent. As a general rule, I wish it were easier to engage in major public policy initiatives and invest in important research without having to find some military justification for doing so. The kinds of investments in clean energy that will be necessary to transform the American energy economy could probably be more efficiently made in a civilian context, and a country with a healthy political culture would make them on their own merits. That said, to the extent that the Pentagon is able to induce an end run around energy politics that have become caught up in issues of identity as much as economics (real Americans burn fossil fuels dammit), I suppose I’ll take the help from whence it’s coming.
Update: When I talk about my discomfort with vesting the military with too much power in what ought to be civilian domains, this is why.