The safety and security of the United States will depend on how well we as a nation address the challenges of climate change.
That was reaffirmed for me at the recent United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, which I attended as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.
Opponents of climate action argue there is no proof that greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change and therefore we should not expend significant effort to reduce those emissions.
But many of the steps that would reduce emissions are steps we must take to increase our national security – specifically by weaning ourselves off oil.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am concerned about how our dependence on oil threatens our national security. As a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, I am confident that renewable energy, especially solar energy, can be a key solution.
The Department of Defense accounts for 80 percent of the federal government’s energy consumption. Three-quarters of the department’s energy is used for military operations – and 94 percent of that energy comes from petroleum.
Where does that petroleum come from? In 1970, we imported 24 percent of our oil. Today, it’s more than 65 percent and growing. By depending on foreign sources for two-thirds of our oil, we are in a precarious position in an unpredictable world.
The impact of our oil dependence is more than just a vague, geopolitical risk – it is felt directly by our troops on the front lines every day, where they use petroleum for everything from armored vehicles to air conditioners.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office determined that transporting fuel to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan poses tremendous security risks and logistical burdens for U.S. armed forces.
For the military, greater fuel efficiency and solar power prove their worth with lives saved and battles won.
Our dependence on oil weakens us at home, as well. In his recent speech on Afghanistan, President Obama noted that we cannot be militarily strong unless we are economically strong.
Yet our nation spends more than $400 billion a year on foreign sources of energy. That’s money taken out of our economy and sent to foreign nations – and it is draining the lifeblood from our economy.
However, a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association found that solar can meet 15 percent of our nation’s electricity demands by 2020. That would mean 800,000 new jobs for American workers.
Clearly, reducing our dependence on imported oil and switching to domestic, renewable energy sources would make our nation more secure.
Because the Department of Defense understands this, it is taking the lead on energy efficiency and renewables. The military has set an ambitious goal of obtaining 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The results of this effort are apparent in Tucson at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. A vast array of 80,000 solar panels soon will provide power to 900 homes for Air Force personnel and their families.
Now the rest of our country must follow.
We in Congress recently took an important step to make solar power even more effective – and attractive – in the years ahead. The House of Representatives gave strong bipartisan approval to my Solar Technology Roadmap Act, a bill that would boost federal research for the development of improved solar energy technology.
This bill would advance solar research and help move new technologies from laboratories into our homes, businesses and military bases. I am hopeful the Senate soon will consider my bill and send it to President Obama.
Our dependence on oil is a threat to our national security – but we have the knowledge and the tools to address the challenge.
– U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, is in her second term representing Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.