America’s dependence on fossil fuels is the greatest long-term national security threat facing the nation, according to a new documentary The Burden that held its world premiere in Washington, D.C. last Friday evening as part of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. The 40-minute film is directed, produced and written by Roger Sorkin, who participated in a post-screening panel discussion about how the men and women of the armed forces are leading the charge in the transition away from oil to a clean energy future.
“Dependence on fossil fuels is not just an environmental concern: it’s a matter of national security,” said former Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke. “That’s why the military invests in renewable and efficient energy, and why the nation should invest in a clean energy future. The Burden makes a compelling case about the importance of energy security.”
Other panelists at the post-screening discussion included Michael Breen, executive director of the Truman National Security Project, a co-producer of the film; Capt. James Goudreau, director of policy and partnerships at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy; and Kevin Johnson, director of federal business development at Canadian Solar (USA) and a veteran who served in Iraq.
The movie shows how much time was wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan getting and protecting fuel. “Fuel delivery to our deployed units is a vulnerability that adversaries exploit to disrupt our operations,” said Goudreau. According to Operation Free, a nationwide coalition of veterans advocating for clean energy, one in 24 supply convoys in Afghanistan results in an American casualty.
Johnson said that more than 14,000 combat veterans make up 10 percent of the solar industry workforce as their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan gave them a unique perspective on America’s dangerous reliance on fossil fuels.
And the military is finding innovative ways to reduce its dependence on petroleum by investing in clean energy and energy efficiency technologies. In 2012, solar energy installations and other renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements at combat outposts in Afghanistan saved around 20 million gallons of fuel. The Department of Defense—the largest single energy consumer in America and the world’s largest institutional consumer of oil—is ramping up research and development of advanced “drop-in” biofuels with the goal for the Air Force to acquire 50 percent of its domestic aviation fuel from alternative fuels by 2016 and for the Navy to obtain half of the fleet’s liquid fuel from alternative sources by 2020.
The Burden also demonstrates how seriously the military takes climate change. The military expects to be called into action to deal with climate-related events such as an influx of climate refugees from low-lying Asian countries vulnerable to sea level rise and fighting over food and water in drought-stricken areas of Africa and the Middle East.
“I get the question a lot ‘why did you want to make this film?’ For me it really just came out of a frustration that I think a lot of us share which is how climate change is talked about, how the debate is framed,” said Sorkin. “My goal was to do my part to reframe the debate by trying to take this out of the highly politicized confines that it is in now and really bring it into an area where conservatives and liberals, no matter what side of the spectrum you’re on, can get behind this in the name of national security.”
Images via The Burden