Outside of the office, and outside the lines of a professional forum such as this blog, I admittedly love talking politics. I always have, and as excruciatingly frustrating as it is sometimes, I probably always will.
At the same time, I have tried to leave that game at home. I genuinely believe that the long-term growth of the cleantech sector is tied to a number of underlying, inevitable shifts that are apolitical. Aging & failing infrastructure must eventually be replaced, diverse resource shortages – from water to minerals to food – must be addressed, and toxic pollution – that represents a real and significant health risk in increasingly crowded and urban environments – must be mitigated.
For these reasons, I try to stay above the political fray and focus mainly on how commercial landscapes are developing. That is until politicians act so egregiously wrong that it is impossible to not address the situation. This week is one of those weeks. As Rob Day wrote in response to the attempts by Republicans on the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee’s to block U.S. military spending on biofuels programs:
This simply should not be a partisan political issue. It’s not even a ‘green’ issue. It’s a strategic military issue… I’m not a Democrat. And I’m not even a big biofuels supporter. I’m just sick and tired of the cleantech sector being politicians’ undeserving punching bag, and suffering collateral damage due to their incompetence at governing.
The U.S. Department of Defense has arguably been the most prolific investor in innovation over the past fifty years. Via DARPA and other advanced technology programs, the DOD has had a major hand in directly spawning the communications and computing industries. Without it, everything from GPS to the Internet to speech recognition would not exist. It is a record that the military should take deep pride in.
DOD’s investments over the past 50 years were motivated solely by the desire to build and sustain the world’s most advanced military while keeping our soldiers as safe as possible. It is the same spirit that drove the DOD under the Bush Administration to commission a 2008 report entitled “More Fight, Less Fuel” that outlined the critical importance of developing alternative and more efficient energy sources for military applications.
As the world’s largest institutional energy buyer, the DOD could not have a more strategic interest in fuel. It not only costs the military billions and billions of dollars a year; more importantly it costs the military hundreds, if not thousands, of lives every year to transport fuel to forward operating bases. In 2010 alone, there were over a thousand insurgent attacks on fuel convoys. This is not politics. This is life or death stuff.
Unfortunately, it’s an election year in the U.S. and 13 U.S. Senators (11 Republicans and 2 Democrats), including former Presidential candidate John McCain, see an opportunity to score political points. They seem intent on labeling the military’s laudable biofuels programs – kick started under the Bush Administration – as fanciful, unnecessary spending required by the Obama Administration and are trying to prevent any additional spending in 2013.
It’s just plain sad and so entirely misguided.
The noble aspect of DOD’s previous investments in innovation is that they, for the most part, weren’t subject to political calculation. Unfortunately, nothing now appears beyond the shameless reach of politics in the United States.
In the end, it is the U.S. military, U.S. entrepreneurs, and U.S. industry that will suffer until voters wisen up and demand an end to the insanity.
Stepping off my soapbox now… feel free to weigh in with different perspectives in the comments!
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