Study: Military providing example of becoming sustainable without politics

Apr 25, 2012

America’s fighting men and women provide a sterling example of how to become sustainable, reduce energy consumption and save lives — all without pitting ideological sides against one another, according to research by a University of Kansas professor.

Simran Sethi, associate professor of journalism, has conducted research into the Department of Defense’s efforts to improve and the psychological barriers of engaging multiple communities in a discussion.

“The military has remained very apolitical. It’s an incredibly useful model of sustainability they’re putting together,” Sethi said. “It changes the whole perspective of what it means to engage in sustainability.”

The Department of Defense is the nation’s largest employer and consumer of energy and one of the top 50 greenhouse gas emitters in the world, Sethi points out in her research. Yet they are working to reduce consumption, not to “go green” or win political points, but to keep soldiers alive.

The military uses large amounts of energy because its mission requires it. Getting fuel to soldiers in remote areas is costly — $13.5 billion was spent by the DOD on energy worldwide in 2011 — and very dangerous. Department of Defense statistics show that between 2003 and 2007, 3,000 U.S. Army personnel or contractors were killed or wounded in attacks on water and fuel convoys.

To combat the high casualty rates, they’ve increased sustainability by installing solar panels on both permanent and temporary bases, using fuel cell chargers to power individual soldier equipment and using biofuels in military vehicles. By improving safety and military effectiveness, they’ve engaged in “secondary sustainability,” or an instance when sustainability is the byproduct, not the primary goal.

Sethi says the Department of Defense has provided a model of how an issue as divisive as climate change can be agreed upon by parties with widely differing views. In this case, by improving sustainability they’ve reduced casualties among soldiers, something that naturally has no opposition. When speaking financially, people refer to a return on investment. In this case, the social return on investment is the key.

“To me, there is no more important social return on investment than lives saved,” Sethi said. “It is a goal shared by all of us, regardless of political affiliation.”

Her research also explores why an issue such as climate change can result in schisms. A 2011 Pew Research Center Poll showed 38 percent of Americans thought global warming was a very serious problem, while 33 percent believed it was not a serious problem or not a problem at all. Psychological research has shown that people can care about only a certain number of issues at a time and that individuals cannot be made to care about an issue by being force-fed scientific data or arguments. Furthermore, the human brain has not evolved past the point of naturally being concerned with immediate problems first.

“We’re still using the same minds we were 200,000 years ago. This understanding renders scientific arguments necessary, but incomplete,” Sethi wrote.

Despite that understanding, mass media and climate change communicators have focused on using tactics such as urging people to “go green” to fight climate change. And the message is framed with images of a polar bear on an ice floe or with a political figure such as Al Gore, it is met with indifference, opposition or near hostility. If society at large is able to find a common theme as either the result or byproduct of increased sustainability, true progress could be made on fighting climate change, Sethi said.

“It is imperative that we redefine our return on investment and frame sustainability and climate change within existing cares. This requires a deeper understanding of values, and a deeper sensitivity to culture,” Sethi said. “If we’re able to achieve that sense of shared purpose, we can achieve something extraordinary.”

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User comments : 5

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1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2012
indeed all we need is more wars and let these experts teach the dead the value of combat
1 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2012
The military is doing this because it is in their interest to do so.
'Saving the polar bears' hype is in the interest of political groups pocket book.
1.3 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2012
Wow the military is apolitical?
Who writes this stuff?
The military is also very amoral.
Theres plenty of videos of army man beating up goats unarmed civilians and even children and driving over civilians with trucks.
Their solution to sustainability is to kill and commit genocide.
To cease land and so they can go and build banks, get opium or oil.
To combat the high casualty rates, theyve increased sustainability by installing solar panels on both permanent and temporary bases, using fuel cell chargers to power individual soldier equipment and using biofuels in military vehicles. By improving safety and military effectiveness, theyve engaged in secondary sustainability, or an instance when sustainability is the byproduct, not the primary goal.

Yeah they also get the money to do it. Civilians dont have that money for expensive tech.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2012
Cut funding and the military will collapse in a week. So much for "sustainable." The only things they can sustain are casualties.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2012
"all without pitting ideological sides against one another,"
This story is wrong on so many levels.
I am sure most 'progressives' would love to be able to bark out their 'intelligent' orders and have the serfs ask how high.
The military is rife with politics within and without. Budgets are allocated by Congress and individual units have some control over those funds to achieve their missions. It is in the best interest of these units spend wisely and shorten their logistics chain.
Subs and carriers are nuclear powered so they don't have to rendezvous with tankers every few days. Maybe ground forces will get portable nuclear batteries as well.

"If were able to achieve that sense of shared purpose, we can achieve something extraordinary."
Many socialists before him have attempted to achieve this 'shared purpose'. The only shared purpose achieved was death.

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