The US military may be starting to awaken to the realities of the population explosion. Reading the March 9th, 2012 edition of the NDIA (National Defense Industry Association) newsletter I came across an article titled “Panetta Makes It Official: Military Must Become Greener” that gives some insight into the growing concern in the Pentagon about energy supplies for the military. The article mentions a six-year DOD (Department of Defense) initiative aimed at reducing fuel and energy consumption in all areas of the United States military, and it cites some interesting numbers:
– More than 400 forward bases in Afghanistan currently consume between 250 and 7500 gallons of fuel each every day, depending on their size
– Large military bases consume around 50,000 gallons of fuel per day
– The U.S. military consumes 50 million gallons of fuel per month in Afghanistan
– The military just purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuels for testing, its largest purchase of biofuels ever
– The U.S. military consumes less than 2% of the nation’s fuel supply
All of this got me thinking about all the facilities and equipment using that fuel. 50 million gallons per month is a staggering amount. What will happen when money and fuel run short as the population peaks (with attendant economic upheavals), and begins to decline, which could occur as soon as 2040?
The U.S. has long been the “900 pound gorilla” in the global military business. In the late 20th and early 21st century the United States has not shied away from putting a major military presence anywhere in the world if the state department wished it. Fuel considerations have rarely hindered the government’s will to establish a military presence, but that situation may begin to change. According to National Defense magazine, Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, says she does not foresee the Pentagon returning to “business as usual” when it comes to energy, even after the current conflicts end.
The energy requirements of the U.S. military are staggering. Military aircraft, missile defense ships, and aircraft carriers are unbelievably expensive to build and deploy, and require lots of fuel. Until fuel shortages become a problem, however, the fuel requirements of military actions will continue to be only a small consideration, and fuel will continue to be used in a “whatever it takes” mode that stresses operational success over fuel considerations. This suggests that military fuel requirements will continue to expand until fuel scarcity and rising cost become serious problems, even as the government makes feeble attempts to address conservation measures.
The population peak and decline will cause big problems for the U.S. military. As the population approaches the limit beyond which civilization begins to break down in earnest, possibly before 2050, the military will initially respond to the inevitable widespread strife by deploying more and more equipment and people, but when that limit is crossed fuel costs will skyrocket and availability will plummet. After that it is just a matter of time before a lot of hardware – ships, planes, vehicles, and weapons systems – will have to be parked in places far from North America, probably to remain there for forever since in many cases the fuel to bring them home will not be available. (I am told there are already many navy ships anchored and “moth-balled”, slowly rusting away and polluting the Indian Ocean off of Sri Lanka.) As a result, a lot of this equipment will never see use by the U.S. military again, and much of it may be taken over by local populations for military or non-military use. Such use will, by necessity, not involve much use of fuel, though some equipment may be converted to run on biofuel or other energy sources. Large ships, however, may be left at anchor and, at best, later used as well-secured living space for those people who retain control of the most resources. A direct historical parallel can be seen in the way the Romans left unoccupied fortresses and other equipment at the limits of the empire as it shrank.
The problems of skyrocketing fuel costs and falling tax revenues will become insurmountable. As fossil fuels rise in cost and decline in availability the military will have to spend a larger and larger portion of its budget on fuel, and at some point the cost will suddenly begin to impact the deployment and operation of military equipment. When the population (and tax base) begin to decline steeply, the government will find itself in a serious deficit-spending situation, with demand for both funds and fuel falling, but much more slowly than tax revenues. At some point the military will face tough choices as to which forward bases to close, which aircraft carriers and submarines to bring home, and what equipment must be left behind as the military pulls back to avoid partial or complete collapse of its capabilities. The long, global supply lines will become unreliable and intermittent, and fuel shortages will dominate international politics and diplomacy even as food shortages create major political and economic turmoil around the world. At the same time the U.S. military’s capabilities will be dropping precipitously, even as world politics are changing rapidly.
Finally the U.S. military is beginning to perceive the symptoms of the population explosion, if not the problem itself. Unfortunately the Pentagon still doesn’t appear to understand that the root cause of their energy challenges is the population explosion, and that collapse is inevitable, but they are at least seeing one of the symptoms and beginning to address it. Until they face the full reality of our situation military budgets will continue to be challenged and energy supplies will keep increasing as a component of those budgets. How long it will be before a broad understanding of what is happening to us emerges is in question, but it is clear that the longer it takes for the reduction of worldwide birthrates to become our first priority and be addressed, the worse the suffering will be in the inevitable fall back of human population we will see, probably somewhere between 2030 and 2090.
We all need to help in the much-needed “consciousness raising”. Not only the United States government, but all governments will feel the energy pinch, but this may still not be enough to generate an understanding of the root causes of our situation in time to make a meaningful difference. Population pressure is already creating economic strife and mass migrations of illegal immigrants across borders around the world but few seem to understand what is happening and the global media, if any of them do understand, are loath to talk about it. It is a scary topic, and truly scary topics don’t make for good ratings – I understand that – but the longer we wait to address birthrate reduction, the worse the situation will be when the fallback of civilization begins in earnest. That leaves it up to the grassroots – us – to do what we can for our children and grandchildren. One thing we can easily do is to talk about the population explosion whenever appropriate. We need to communicate with our government representatives about the importance of this topic and the nearness of a situation in which large-scale catastrophes occur around the world with a frequency nobody can keep up with, as skyrocketing energy costs and a failing food production system meet in a “perfect storm” of economic and political woes. Please call and write your government representatives, and work to raise the consciousness of everyone possible. It is apparently our only hope for reducing the suffering inevitable with such a major global decline of civilization.
As always, I welcome your comments — Tim