Young Veterans Tell Congress: Cleaner Energy Is Safer for America

I have read plenty of briefings about the national security risks posed by climate change, but it is far more powerful to hear about them from people who have seen the grave consequences of our oil dependence first hand: veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

This week, Operation Free, a coalition of veteran and national security groups, launched a 21-state bus tour so veterans can speak directly to American people about how climate change is undermining our safety and why we need to pass clean energy and climate legislation as quickly as possible. (You can follow along with one of my NRDC colleagues Rocky Kistner, who has jumped on the bus and is blogging and posting videos along the way.)

These veterans aren't alone in their concern. As the New York Times reported back in August, American defense and intelligence agencies consider climate change to be a significant threat to national security. The Pentagon has included climate change in their Quadrennial Defense Review this year, for instance, and the CIA has just opened its own center on climate change.

But even as our government moves to understand this growing threat, our servicemen and women continue to pay the price for America's addiction to dirty fossil fuels.

Rick Hegdahl, one of the veterans on the bus tour, explained that when he was stationed in Kuwait during the 2003 lead-up to the Iraq invasion, he commanded a patrol boat for the Navy. His mission was to keep watch over giant oil tankers waiting to be fueled up.

"It really dawned on me that the primary reason we were there was to control the shipping lanes for oil. I said, 'Something's wrong. Something's really wrong.'"

Something is really wrong when we send our young men and women into a war zone to protect oil supplies when we have many cleaner, more sustainable options for powering our economy.

Members of my family have headed into war zones in the past. My father was a Navy man who spent 44 months at sea during World War II. My brother served in the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War. He shipped out when I was a college freshman at a school awash in strong antiwar sentiment. It was painful to know my brother was risking his life for a mission so many of us had lost faith in.

Now another generation of young people is questioning why America has sent so many of our brave soldiers overseas once again. Many of those asking the questions this time around are veterans. And they want to know why we fight when alternatives to the resource we are battling over already exist here at home.

"Veterans of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are among the strongest advocates for clean energy in America today," wrote James Taylor, one of the Operation Free members on his blog. "We understand the need to rein in climate-altering pollution better than most. We see with stark clarity the need for America to break its reliance on foreign oil."

Veterans like Taylor believe the best way to do that is to pass clean energy and climate legislation. A bill already passed the House in June; now the Senate is considering its own version, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senator John Kerry, another veteran who believes that fighting climate change is better for national security than fighting wars over oil.

Battling climate change also has the added benefit of putting millions of Americans to work building the clean energy infrastructure of the future. This is the kind of safe, well-paying, and meaningful work our veterans deserve to find when they return home from duty.

To show your support for this clean energy mission, click here to find out of the Operation Free bus tour will be traveling through a city near you.