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Science Adviser Holdren Says Military Can Lead on Clean Energy

The U.S. Defense Department, which accounts for 93 percent of federal energy use, can lead the push for a low-carbon economy, the science adviser to President Barack Obama said.

Investments in advanced fuels and electric vehicles, as well as new efficiency practices, may develop breakthroughs, John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said today at a Washington conference on climate change and the defense industry. The U.S. military is responsible for 2 percent of the country’s energy consumption.

The Pentagon has an interest in low-carbon alternatives, Holdren said. Extreme temperatures and severe weather caused by climate change threaten U.S. troops and equipment and may heighten international tensions, he said.

“The problem is that the world is getting most of the energy that its economies need in ways that are imperiling the climate that its environment needs,” the 67-year-old Holdren said. “That is the essence of the challenge.”

More than 80 percent of global energy comes from oil, coal and natural gas. Solutions such as low-carbon nuclear power also present risks, he said.

The Defense Department buys oil products from London-based BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc of The Hague and other companies. The Navy has tested biofuel in a fighter jet and surface vessels.

Melting ice in the Arctic has already prompted disputes over ownership of undersea resources, according to Holdren. Disputes in the region, as well as increased ship traffic, may require more military patrols, he said.

‘Environmental Refugees’

Potential sources of climate-related conflict include water shortages, civil disorder and “environmental refugees,” Holdren said.

More frequent heat waves, storms, mud and dust also may complicate U.S. defense operations and make military bases vulnerable, he said. Troop health may be harmed by a “worsened disease environment” caused by warmer temperatures, he said.

Money that must be spent to help deal with the effects of climate change may divert funds from national defense, Holdren said.

Holdren was a Harvard University expert on climate change, energy and arms control when the Senate unanimously approved his White House appointment in 2009.

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